After 3 Teachers Share Classroom During Summer School, All Caught COVID-19 & 1 Died

Kimberley Bird
Inside Edition/YouTub

Sure, it may be summer, but if you've got a kid in grade school, your mind is likely focused on one thing and one thing only right now: Will their school district be reopening in the fall -- and will you send them back if it does? Parents are far from alone -- teachers have been struggling with that one, too, as they feel caught in the middle of a debate that's somehow turned political. But while we've all been asking ourselves whether or not a return to school will be safe for the children, it seems we've collectively forgotten about something else: The teachers. One story out of Arizona has certainly reignited the debate this week, after three teachers reportedly caught the coronavirus after sharing a classroom last month -- and one of them died from it.

  • According to ABC 15, the teachers all taught at Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District in Gila County.

    After the pandemic forced Arizona schools to close this spring, the district switched to remote learning. But once summer school rolled around, Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd and two other teachers decided to give a go at "team-teaching."

    According to District Superintendent Jeff Gregorich, this involved teaching remotely, but together -- in other words, the teachers remained in the same room, while students tuned in from home. But despite following CDC guidelines for social distancing, regularly sanitizing, and wearing face masks and gloves, it wasn't enough. All three of the teachers soon tested positive for COVID-19.

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  • Byrd's family says she was always careful, and remained concerned about the virus' threat.

    "She was very concerned you know but she was 100% on board with whatever needed to be done," her husband Jesse told ABC 15. "She had ordered face shields, masks. She was making masks because she loved to sew."

  • But within just a week of co-teaching together, the women started to feel ill.

    According to an interview with Inside Edition, co-teacher Angela Skillings was the first to have symptoms, followed by Jena Martinez-Inzunza.

    Both women are still recovering from the virus at home, but Byrd's battle with the illness was much more severe. Her son later shared that his mother was at an especially high risk of complications, due to a history of lung issues and asthma. CNN reports that Byrd also had lupus and diabetes.

  • A doctor initially prescribed the 61-year-old with an antibiotic and steroids, but on June 13, she was admitted to a local hospital.

    The next morning, she called to tell her husband that doctors were putting her on a ventilator, and according to CNN, that was the last time they spoke.

    "I just had this horrible gut-wrenching feeling just knowing how much of a struggle this was going to be because I knew her lungs were compromised even before this ... fear, just the worst fear that you could feel," Jesse told the outlet. "I knew it was going to be rough on her."

    It certainly was.

    At one point, doctors believed her condition was improving enough to remove her from the ventilator and switch her to a semi-conscious state. However, in the process of waking her up, Byrd experienced what was described as a panic attack, and her health deteriorated from there.

  • On June 26, Byrd was pronounced dead -- just days shy of her 24th wedding anniversary.

    At the same time, the virus was sweeping through the rest of her family, too.

    CNN reports that Jesse Byrd, his daughter, son, daughter-in-law, 4-year-old granddaughter, and several other relatives all tested positive COVID-19 while his wife remained hospitalized. Kimberley Byrd's brother was also hit hard by the virus and was placed on a ventilator for over 27 days.

    However, the family cannot say for certain where exactly Byrd contracted the virus -- if it was in fact inside the classroom, or at home.

  • For now, those who knew and loved Kimberley Byrd are remembering her as a loving mother and devoted educator.

    She taught first grade in Arizona for 38 years, and loved teaching so much that she even returned to it years after retiring. 

    "A lot of her classroom rules were based around kids respecting each other and being kind to each other and not bullying -- that was really important to her," her husband remembered.

  • Ultimately, Byrd's husband hopes that her death is a signal to administrators not to reopen schools too quickly.

    "Many grandparents wind up being caretakers to kids when they get off school -- mom and dad are working and a lot of grandparents are even raising their grandchildren. So, many of these grandparents fall into this high-risk category of being older with more health issues," Jesse told CNN. "They have no business opening the schools to try and get back to a traditional classroom ... let's get through this pandemic first before we try to get back to normal."

    At the moment, Arizona is one of the hardest-hit states in the nation, adding 44,000 new coronavirus cases so far this month. So far, the death toll remains just over 2,200.