SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Months after a Suffolk girl died from COVID-19 complications, 10 On Your Side is learning more about her role as a class nurse in the days before her death.
Teresa Sperry was just 10 years old on Wednesday, Sept. 22, when she complained to Suffolk Public Schools officials that she had a headache. After taking note that her temperature was normal, she was sent back to class.
It was only the day before that documents confirm Teresa was assigned the role of “class nurse.”
In the days that followed her initial headache, Teresa’s condition worsened. On Monday, Sept. 27, Teresa died from COVID-19 complications at the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk.
In an interview with WAVY News following her death, the superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools, Dr. John B. Gordon III said, “It is true that the student had the job of nurse, but that was for band-aids or bags of ice for kids who fell on the playground, etcetera.”
Gordon went on to detail a procedure the school termed “Code C,” saying it was used whenever there was a sick student. He also said they verified with the teacher, school nurse, and the administration that at no time was Teresa walking someone to a clinic who was feeling sick.
Following her death, 10 On Your Side learned about an internal investigation being done into Teresa’s role as nurse.
WAVY News worked to get a copy of the completed internal investigation report, but our Freedom of Information Act requests were denied. We were told by a Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman that our request was excluded from mandatory disclosure. She added that the request could be released to the parent or legal guardian of the student.
10 On Your Side reached out to Teresa’s family to see if they were interested in filing the request.
Jeff and Nicole Sperry said they weren’t made aware of its completion.
“They could call us to ask if there was permission for them to go to her funeral, but they can’t call and tell us this? This is more important than calling to see who can come to the funeral,” said Jeff Sperry.
They filed the request and were granted the information days later. Nicole Sperry said what arrived in her email inbox was underwhelming.
“When I got the email that they were like ‘OK here’s your information’ I was like ‘Yes!’ and I started looking at it and I was like, ‘This is it?'” explained Nicole. “You said the most recent excuse they gave you was because you’re not Teresa’s parents and when you told me that I’m like… it’s going to be a lot of confidential information. What kind of confidential information? I don’t know. I thought it was gonna be something serious. I thought it was gonna be more than three printed pages.”
The school’s investigation confirms their original statement claiming Teresa Sperry did escort classmates to and from the nurse’s office — but never sick students, only injured students.
The investigation is in a timeline based on the input of several staff members. The Sperrys feel the investigation is incomplete and inconsistent with what they’re allegedly hearing and what they heard from Teresa before her death.
“I want to be able to just ask her,” said Jeff Sperry. “But I can’t. She’s gone.” Nicole Sperry says there is more information they need and hoped the internal investigation would provide.
“In the portion of the FOIA information that they gave us, they included a snippet of an email that the teacher sent the principal in regards to Teresa. A snippet of an email is not the full email that should have been disclosed,” Jeff Sperry said.
10 On Your Side obtained an email from the Suffolk School Board’s attorney saying a Litigation Hold Notice was been issued to employees in October who may have relevant information.
They go on to say that those employees have been requested to preserve paper records and electronically stored information, including emails, Word documents, school attendance information, clinic referrals for students in Teresa’s class at Hillpoint Elementary School, list of students enrolled at Hillpoint Elementary School who reported to have contracted COVID-19 during the relevant time period, video evidence, photos, witness statements, notes, memos, and any other information created and/or stored electronically relating to Teresa Sperry, including text messages, voicemail messages, and information on social networking sites.
The Sperry family has not taken any legal action as of the time this article was originally published.
In a response to a WAVY News inquiry, Suffolk Public Schools said, “Suffolk Public Schools cannot comment on any particular student or how Suffolk Public Schools addresses the health needs of any particular student. However, Suffolk Public Schools issued COVID-19 Guidelines to address and promote the safety, health, and welfare of our students, employees, and our community. Students are assessed consistent with Suffolk Public Schools screening protocols. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) people with COVID-19 have a wide range of symptoms – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Suffolk Public Schools continues to follow the guidance of the CDC. Students who attend Hillpoint Elementary School who are suspected of having COVID symptoms are reported to the nurse or office with a phone call to indicate a suspected “Code C”. Students with COVID-19 symptoms are monitored in an isolated area while waiting for a parent/guardian to pick them up.”
The investigation report is one-page front and back, plus a half-page.
Was Teresa Sperry taking classmates to the nurse in the time leading up to her diagnosis?
Short answer? Yes. However, according to the internal investigation report, Teresa’s long-term class substitute says the 10-year-old only assisted an injured student to the nurse’s office. The nurse also recalled Teresa escorting an injured child in addition to a student needing an inhaler.
Did any classmates test positive for COVID-19 prior to, during or after Teresa’s diagnosis?
Suffolk Public Schools report there were no positive COVID-19 cases in Teresa’s class leading up to her diagnosis. Clinic referrals allegedly reflect there were no students with suspected COVID-19 symptoms sent to the clinic between Sept. 7 through Sept. 23. SPS officials say Teresa was the first positive case in her class; two others tested positive on Sept. 29 and Oct. 4.
The Sperrys know there isn’t an outcome that gives them their daughter back, but they’re continuing to fight for more answers.
Stay with WAVY.com for more local news updates.