Iowa Teacher on Administrative Leave Dies of Apparent Suicide at Age 39

·4 min read
Kristopher Rollins
Kristopher Rollins

Des Moines Public Schools Kristopher Rollins

Editor's Note: This story has been updated following news of Rollins' administrative leave and recent allegations that he previously had a relationship with a student.

An Iowa teacher who was recently put on administrative leave has died by suicide, according to authorities.

Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) educator Dr. Kristopher Rollins died Friday at age 39, DMPS Superintendent Tom Ahart confirmed in a letter to staff, according to the Des Moines Register.

A spokesperson with the Des Moines Police Department tells PEOPLE that his death was an apparent suicide.

Rollins' death at his home Friday came one day after he was put on administrative leave, Des Moines Public Schools spokesperson Phil Roeder confirmed to CBS affiliate KCCI.

Though Rollins had been praised by school officials as "one of the best-known educators in the city," Movement 515, the urban art group that Rollins helped found, has since announced that he was allegedly a "predator" and "groomer" after having a relationship with a student.

The unnamed student has since graduated from DMPS but the group said she was a minor at the time of their relationship.

In a statement to PEOPLE, the school confirmed Rollins and fellow teacher Emily Lang — who was identified by KCCI as his ex-wife — "were placed on administrative leave on Thursday following information received last week."

"However, this remains a personnel issue and we cannot discuss details of the allegations as we continue to look into the matter," the school added. "Our focus now is to also provide counseling and support to their students and colleagues during this time."

The Des Moines Police Department also confirms to PEOPLE that the DMPS took administrative action, but notes that "they have no formal reports to initiate an investigation."

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Rollings first started working for Des Moines Public Schools 11 years ago at Harding Middle School as a social science and reading teacher, according to the Register.

During his time at the middle school, Rollins became heavily involved with the youth leadership and arts programs, the outlet reported.

His love for hip-hop, poetry and social justice led him to co-found RunDSM, an organization that provides "marginalized students access to culturally conscious curriculum, urban art forms, and opportunities for student-centered community activism."

As part of the organization's mission to create a "representative, culturally conscious climate within Des Moines Public Schools," Rollins helped launch Movement 515. The initiative is described on their website as an "urban arts community where, twice a week, students and mentors come together to create spoken word poetry and graffiti art."

Later, Rollins transitioned into a faculty member role at Des Moines Public Schools' Central Campus, ABC affiliate WOI-DT reported.

He went on to serve as a co-facilitator of the Urban Leadership Program at Central Campus, as well as an arts coordinator for the district and a transformational leadership coach in the district's Office of Talent and Support, according to the Register.

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As news of Rollins' death spread through the Des Moines community, many who knew him were left shocked, noting how the educator was very well-known and revered.

"He was always showing us his humanity, that he wasn't a perfect person," Jalesha Johnson, a 24-year-old former student, told the Register. "He changed this city. He changed Des Moines Public Schools. He changed my life, the lives of so many young people here."

Qynne Kelly, a friend and former colleague of Rollins, added to the outlet that his work with RunDSM and Movement 515 left a major impact on the urban youth.

"It was all about getting free with art, being able to be their authentic selves, being able to be leaders and organize within the community… The impact of that is unreal," she said, per the Register. "The whole DMPS community is in mourning."

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.