Mom of 10-year-old who died of COVID warns pandemic 'is not over'; parents sue Wis. elementary schools after kids test positive

·9 min read
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - AUGUST 30: Ms. Carolyn Jackson, Assistant Principal of Long Branch Elementary School, greets students as the walk off the school bus on August 30, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. Today is the first day of the school year for Arlington Public Schools after students participated in a hybrid learning schedule in the spring semester of 2021 due to the the Covid-19 pandemic.  (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Carolyn Jackson, assistant principal of Long Branch Elementary School, greets students as they walk off the bus in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Mom whose daughter died of COVID warns school board that the pandemic is not over

A Virginia mom whose 10-year-old daughter died of COVID-19 spoke at her school's board meeting a day after her daughter's funeral to warn that the pandemic is not over. 

Nicole Sperry, who is a teacher, voiced her concerns at the Chesapeake Public Schools’ board meeting on Monday. (Sperry is a teacher at Chesapeake Public Schools; her daughter went to school in nearby Suffolk, Va.) "My message for you and all that are listening is that COVID is not over, no matter what people who have been standing up here have said," she said. "During the last meeting, there were parents or concerned citizens that voiced misinformation to you. They said that COVID was basically over and that healthy people do not die. When they were sharing this information, their opinions, the fact was, I was sitting next to my healthy daughter's deathbed."

Sperry's daughter, Teresa Sperry, died of COVID-19 in late September. Sperry said in a Facebook post that her daughter was required to walk sick classmates to the nurse's office at her school before she tested positive for the virus. Yahoo Life reached out to Sperry for comment but did not receive a response. 

"Now more than ever, we need to do everything that we can to protect our children," Sperry said. "We need to be the example to them on how to wear masks correctly. We need to be the example to them on how to show compassion and empathy."

Sperry said that her family had "done everything possible to help lower the spread of COVID," noting that they even refused to take Teresa to crowded places because they worried she would get infected. "COVID is real, and our wish is that people take it more seriously," Sperry said. 

Experts agree that people — especially parents of unvaccinated children — should still be concerned about COVID-19. "The pandemic is not over for the unvaccinated," Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life. "Unfortunately, the majority of children have yet to be vaccinated. Children are not bulletproof, and every pediatric death is a huge tragedy."

"While it is true that the pandemic is transitioning to a much more manageable phase, it will still be the case that certain special actions are needed to keep the virus from disrupting activities," infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life.

Russo says it's a "dangerous time for the unvaccinated," because the dominant Delta variant of COVID-19 "is so infectious."

Virginia mom files petition asking state to mandate COVID-19 vaccines in school

Virginia mom Kristen Calleja has filed a petition with the state to ask that officials mandate COVID-19 vaccines in schools.

"Vaccines are already required for all state employees. In addition, vaccines should be required for all students for whom the vaccine has been fully approved, just as many other vaccines are mandated," Calleja wrote in her petition, filed on Sept. 1. "My 10th grade daughter and all other kids have sacrificed much over the past 18 months. They only have one childhood. They are finally back to in-person school, but we are already seeing constant disruptions to education for far too many due to infections, possible infections based on symptoms, and mandatory quarantines."

She continued, "My daughter and all other students should have a right to be able to attend school without being unnecessarily put at risk by other students and teachers who refuse to be vaccinated, and without constant disruptions to their education." She ended on this note: "The irrational minority should not be dictating the public health policy for VA or the schools."

Calleja could not be reached by Yahoo Life for comment, but her petition attracted plenty of comments, with many people disagreeing with her stance. "Absolutely no mandates," one person wrote. "Freedom of choice! They are proving to be uneffective [sic] & unsafe." Another said that "freedom is fading fast," adding, "this is overstepping and it is big government. This should not be."

Masks are required in Virginia for all people ages 2 and up in private and public school settings, regardless of vaccination status. Virginia does not require that students and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19, but says that individual districts may choose to mandate them as a condition of employment.

The comment period for the petition ends on Sunday. But while Calleja's stance has been challenged by many people online, experts say that mandates work. "Mandating the vaccine as a condition of enrollment in a school will most definitely increase the vaccination rates and make the school much less likely to be disrupted by COVID," Adalja points out. Russo agrees. "To close the deal and dramatically lower the risk of COVID-19 in schools, mandatory vaccinations are critical," he says.

An Ohio law banning mandatory vaccinations in public schools has gone into effect

An Ohio law that prohibits certain vaccinations in public schools and colleges in Ohio went into effect on Wednesday. House Bill 244 was signed into law in July and says that public schools can't require someone to receive a vaccine that hasn't been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Worth noting: The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was fully approved by the FDA in late August for people ages 16 and up. The other COVID-19 vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also expected to receive full FDA approval at some point.

The law also forbids schools from discriminating against someone who is unvaccinated by not allowing them to do activities that vaccinated people are allowed to do. There are nuances, though. The law allows employers to mandate that new hires must be vaccinated against COVID-19, and allows for mandates in some hospitals. It also allows colleges to mandate vaccinations but forces them to accept "reasons of conscience" as an exemption from getting vaccinated.

When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education told Yahoo Life that the law "prohibits K-12 schools from requiring vaccines that haven’t been FDA-approved."

Ohio reported 5,143 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, according to the state's Department of Health. As of Thursday, nearly 64 percent of eligible Ohioans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's critically important that we protect our children," Russo says. "We know that there are going to be parents that are reluctant to vaccinate their children. The only way to ensure that we have the degree of vaccination uptake we need is through mandatory vaccinations."

Parents in Wisconsin have filed a lawsuit over their kids getting infected in school

Two parents in separate Wisconsin school districts are suing their children's elementary schools after they allegedly contracted COVID-19 at school. 

Shannon Jensen is suing her son's Rose Glen Elementary School in Waukesha, while Gina Kildahl is suing Fall Creek Elementary in Fall Creek. Both children tested positive for COVID-19 just weeks into the school year, despite wearing masks to school. The lawsuits allege that the schools' relaxed policies on masks, quarantining and contact tracing led to the infections.

Earlier this school year, the boards of education for the school districts of Waukesha and Fall Creek voted to stop several mitigation policies, including mask mandates, that had been in place the previous school year. James Sebert, superintendent of the School District of Waukesha, confirmed to Yahoo Life that the district was served with paperwork last week. "We have been in contact with our attorneys and have been advised not to comment further at this time," he added. 

A representative from the School District of Fall Creek did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment. Kirk Bangstad, who leads the political action committee that is funding the lawsuits, also did not respond to Yahoo Life

While the parents believe their children contracted COVID-19 at school, experts say that's tough to prove. It is often difficult to attribute [the] site of infection because there is so much community spread going on," Adalja says. "To do so, it is necessary to sequence the viruses and see if they match." That has to be done during a limited window of time to match the newly infected person with the person who allegedly made them sick, Russo says, noting that it's "highly unlikely" parents did this. 

Even if that were to happen, "that still draws in the question of where the infection was contracted — was it a school or extracurricular activities? It's really difficult to say exactly where it happened," Russo says. 

Several colleges now require proof of vaccination to attend indoor games

A slew of colleges and universities recently announced policies to try to minimize the spread of COVID-19 at ice hockey and basketball games, which are held indoors. 

The University of Maine said on Monday that it will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for anyone who wants to attend its hockey and basketball games this year. Masks are also required to attend, the university notes. The policy goes into effect Friday. 

The news comes just days after Boston University announced that, effective Friday, all attendees over the age of 12 at hockey and basketball games will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Masks are required for attendees ages 2 and up, the school says.

Syracuse University has a similar policy for anyone attending games, noting that people ages 5 to 12, who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, must submit proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours before the game. Masks are also required when people aren't eating or drinking.

Experts say these policies will help keep athletes and fans safe at games. "By having vaccine or testing requirements, any event will be much less likely to be a site of COVID spread," Adalja says. Russo agrees. "Indoors is where the virus spreads more readily," he says. "There were a whole bunch of infections during the previous winter wave at hockey and basketball games. Vaccination is the primary line of defense."

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