School officials across the country are sharing in frustration, disbelief, and worry over a problem many didn’t anticipate when reopening America’s classrooms — parents deliberately sending their COVID-19-infected kids to class.
It’s a dangerous disruption of best-laid plans, a hazard to students and educators, their families and communities. But what can schools do about it?
Shut down. Again
“Never in a million years did we imagine or think to account for parents deliberately sending their sick or symptomatic child to school,” Kirsten Johnson, public health director of Washington-Ozaukee counties in Wisconsin, told NBC News. School districts and health officials planned for months to ensure in-person education resume safely, and that work is being undone, she said.
There have been several instances in Washington-Ozaukee where children have shown up to school even though their parent was fully aware they were sick with coronavirus, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“I think for us, the biggest challenge for us that we’re experiencing right now is people are just being dishonest,” Johnson told the Journal Sentinel. “They don’t want their children to be quarantined from school. They don’t want to have to miss work. In doing that, they’re jeopardizing the ability to have school in person and other people’s health.”
Some districts are out of good options and there may only be one thing left for them to do, Johnson told NBC News.
“A handful of irresponsible parents could be responsible for closing down entire school districts,” Johnson said.
“The human behavior aspect of sending sick and positive children to school is not something we can control, and we never accounted for people completely disregarding basic health guidance,” Johnson said. “We have no tools left, and we just want everyone to be safe.”
Take parents to court
The potential for coronavirus spread is high in a school environment, and it isn’t just the children at risk.
Students can bring it home and infect their parents or grandparents, or sicken teachers and their families. Nearly half of all U.S. school employees are at increased risk for COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions, McClatchy News reported.
If they wanted, schools could probably take legal action against parents for endangering others by sending their ill child to class, Mike Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, told ABC 7.
Nearly 30 students in Massachusetts had to be quarantined this month after coming into contact with a student who had tested positive for coronavirus, but still went to school, the outlet reported.
Provided the school was able to prove in court that the parent knew, it could be a case of reckless endangerment, and potentially assault, he said.
Schools could make two other cases as well, Lawlor said — negligence or willful misconduct.
“This does have a cost when you do it, right? There’s an emergency cleaning operation that has to take place. These other students have to be provided for in distance learning,” he said. “And if anyone were to be able to demonstrate they were exposed and became positive, the health consequences of that could be very significant.”
Screenings and checkpoints?
Many school districts require parents to run through a daily health checklist before their child heads to class, looking for fever, cough, or any symptoms indicating sickness.
They’re relying on parents to do the right thing, and if they don’t, there’s little that schools can do to consistently detect ill students.
Some have invested in temperature screening devices, setting up checkpoints on site to try to weed out sick students as they arrive.
But experts say temperature checks aren’t very good at detecting coronavirus, McClatchy News reported.
While temperature checks do catch some cases, experts say the devices often give inaccurate readings, miss asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals, and frequently miss people with mild symptoms, as well.
People who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic are still able to infect others.