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Parents say 10-year-old who died of COVID-19 was told to be class 'nurse'

The Virginia school district is investigating the claim that she was asked to escort sick children to the nurse's office.

A Virginia 10-year-old died of COVID-19 complications just five days after she started showing symptoms, according to her parents, who said the girl may have been exposed to the virus as a result of being classroom "nurse."

Teresa Sperry was a fifth grader at Hillpoint Elementary School in Suffolk, Virginia, where her teacher gave her the "nurse" job, Teresa's mother, Nicole Sperry, wrote in a Facebook post after Teresa died on Sept. 27.

Teresa Sperry.
Teresa Sperry.via Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters

"Our daughter was perfectly healthy. And would have continued to be here if people would have stopped sending their sick kids to school," Nicole Sperry wrote. "She was required to walk all sick students in her class to the nurse's office."

Teresa first started feeling ill on Sept. 22, her parents, Nicole and Jeff Sperry, told various media outlets. The week prior, their daughter had mentioned that she was responsible for escorting any classmates who were not feeling well out of the classroom.

"And she said that if the kids were sick and needed to go home, she had to go get their book bag and take it back,” Nicole Sperry told The Virginian-Pilot.

Suffolk Public Schools did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News, but Anthonette Ward, a Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman, told The Virginian-Pilot that school rules stipulate that adults, not other children, should accompany kids who are showing possible COVID-19 symptoms.

“The protocol at Hillpoint Elementary School is for the classroom teacher or any adult to contact the main office with a Code ‘C.’ When this occurs, one of the administrators or school nurse will come to the classroom to pick up the student,” Ward told The Virginian-Pilot in an email. “We are still investigating to ensure that this process was followed with fidelity.”

Teresa was a Girl Scout and loved drawing, dancing and singing, her parents wrote in her obituary, adding that she was "friend to all, even to those that would bully her."

Her symptoms began with a headache the first day, followed by a fever the next, her parents told CNN. By the weekend, she had a bad cough. Her mother took her to an emergency room, where Teresa was tested for strep throat and swabbed for COVID-19.

The strep test came back negative. The COVID-19 results, which later came back positive, were still pending when, over the next 24 hours, Teresa stopped breathing and was rushed to a local hospital. Teresa's condition worsened, and she was transferred to Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters Norfolk, CNN reported, where she died on Sept. 27.

'Helping people is my daughter'

Teresa's school district requires masks, but on the day of her death, parents were asking to drop the mask mandate.

"While I was sitting next to my dead daughter, there was a Chesapeake School Board meeting and people were saying, 'This does not affect healthy people. This does not kill healthy people. It is not going to take out children. It’s over,'" Nicole Sperry told NBC affiliate WAVY in Virginia. "Well, I am here to tell you it is not over."

Nicole and Jeff Sperry are vaccinated, as are their two older children, the couple told CNN. They planned to get Teresa and her 9-year-old brother vaccinated when the COVID-19 shot became approved for use in children under 12.

Jeff Sperry tested positive for a breakthrough COVID-19 infection while planning his daughter’s funeral, Nicole Sperry said on her Facebook page.

Fatal cases of COVID-19 are rare in children. Nonetheless, the highly contagious delta variant has led to children making up an increasing share of new COVID-19 cases — in part because young children still are not eligible for vaccines. Nearly 5.9 million children have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Sperrys described their daughter as someone who always wanted to assist, and they said they were not surprised she took on the "nurse" role that she said she was assigned.

"You have to understand my daughter, this is who she is, helping people is my daughter, it’s not something that she wouldn’t have wanted to do," Jeff Sperry told CNN.

Nicole Sperry shared a message for anyone still doubting that COVID-19 is a serious threat.

"We did everything we could have done and now we’ve lost a part of our hearts," she wrote on Facebook. "COVID is real and it doesn’t care who it takes."

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