Newsy investigation: Schools lack clear protocols for COVID-19 updates

Posted at 11:57 AM, Jan 31, 2022

Sara Leathers doesn't want her son Andy to join the nearly 800 kids who have died from COVID-19.

While most child COVID cases aren't fatal, the risk is higher for Andy as he is immunocompromised.

"Had COVID been handled correctly, had all of this not snowballed the way that it has, then this would've been his second year to physically go to school," Leathers said. "Instead, he's still at school homebound."

Andy's two sisters go to public school, and Leathers worries they might bring the virus back home.

"My daughters will come home and say 'so and so has been out for a few days,'" she said. "I don't know what's going on."

An email obtained by Newsy shows a school in the DeSoto County, Mississippi, district had five outbreaks but waited two weeks before even asking the state health department for guidance.

Following further investigation, it turns out that it's not just parents in Hernando, Mississippi, who are paying the price. Several school districts across the nation are stonewalling or even misleading families about COVID risks. Newsy found issues in 33 states.

For example, New Jersey doesn't include outbreaks linked to extracurricular activities. Hundreds of schools haven't posted any COVID updates in Indiana all year.

And in Texas, the state's COVID numbers don't always match what school districts are reporting.

Janet Hamilton is the executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.

Her team partners with the CDC and created COVID guidelines for schools to follow. Hamilton says communication between schools and parents is crucial with the constant threat of a new variant.

"For schools to be able to have regular updates for parents helps remind parents that it is something that we need to stay vigilant about in the same way that we put our kids in seatbelts when we get in the car," Hamilton said. "Not because we actually think we're going to get in an accident, but because it could happen."

Leathers says it's been nearly impossible to get precise information from her district back in Mississippi.

"There's actually a specific email to send things to DeSoto County about COVID, and it's been full since last summer," she said. "Everything just bounces back."

Newsy requested an interview with the superintendent or any other school official to discuss parents' problems trying to get COVID updates. However, we never got a response. So, we went to a school board meeting to see if they would talk to us there, but that didn't happen.

Leathers is still waiting for answers, and for Andy, timely COVID information is a matter of life or death.

"If he gets COVID, I've already been told by his doctors that he's not going to be able to fight it off," Leathers said.

Kaisha Young at Newsy first reported this story.