Parents Knowingly Sent Kids to School With COVID, Lacked 'Basic Ethics': Officials

Parents in Marin County, California, who knowingly sent their children to school with the coronavirus last month lacked "basic ethics" after that act prompted an outbreak of infections among elementary school students, public health officials said Saturday.

The parents could now face a fine or a misdemeanor charge for acting against the county's health order, which requires people who test positive for COVID-19 to quarantine for at least 10 days, the Associated Press reported.

"It's a violation of the law that we've put in place," Dr. Matt Willis, the county's public health officer, told the AP. "More importantly it's also a violation of just basic ethics of community responsibility."

A child who tested positive is a student at Neil Cummins Elementary School in Corte Madera, a town located just north of San Francisco. The child first tested positive for the virus on November 8, and continued to attend school with a sibling—who later tested positive—for the rest of that week and into the following one, according to Larkspur-Corte Madera School District Superintendent Brett Geithman.

Geithman told the AP that the parents failed to notify the school of the positive test or return multiple calls from public health contract tracers. The school discovered the positive case on November 18, and proceeded to contact the families of students who were exposed to the virus and complete rapid tests the next day.

A total of 75 students were exposed and eight tested positive for COVID, the AP reported. At least three of those cases are suspected to be from classroom transmission, but none of the students experienced serious illness or had to be hospitalized.

"Our enforcement team is evaluating the circumstances and will respond accordingly," Marin County Public Health said in a statement on Saturday. "Thankfully, this is the only known occurrence of a household knowingly sending a COVID-19 positive student to school."

When reached by the school, the student's family said they were "not clear on the protocol" to isolate their child for 10 days. However, Willis told the AP that language barriers or economic factors, which could have influenced the parents to continue sending their kids to school, did not appear to be an issue for the family.

So far, the district has issued a "corrective action" to the family, but details of what that entails have not been reported.

"This highlights that we are all in this together," Geithman said. "This is something where, to get through COVID-19, we all have to do our part. Our actions impact the health and safety and well-being of others."

Geithman added that the situation has been "troubling," but not the "norm" for Marin County. This is the district's first reported case of classroom-based transmission since the school reopened for in-person instruction last year, the AP reported.

"Had those children been unmasked, we would have seen a lot more transmission," Willis said, noting that the district has an indoor masking policy. "We depend on one another to prevent spread and this is kind of a stark and unfortunate lesson in what happens when we don't follow the protocols."

According to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, California has the highest rate out of any U.S. state for children who have tested positive for the coronavirus. As of November 25, the state has recorded at least 719,529 coronavirus cases among kids since the pandemic began.

In October, California became the first state in the nation to announce plans to require students to be vaccinated to attend in-person schooling following the full FDA approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for grades 7 to 12 and K-6.

"The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella—there's no reason why we wouldn't do the same for COVID-19. Today's measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom," California Governor Newsom said in a statement.

Newsweek contacted Marin Public Health for additional comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

Elementary school COVID California
Health officials in Northern California said Saturday that parents who knowingly sent their child to school with the coronavirus lacked "basic ethics." Here, chairs, desks and other school furniture is stacked outside a classroom at a public elementary school in California on August 17, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images