Mom of teen who died of COVID frustrated school district won't acknowledge how she died

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- On Wednesday, CBS 58 reported a 13-year-old Cedarburg girl died from COVID-19 on Valentine's Day, and now her family is frustrated by the reaction from Bella's school district.

After fighting for COVID precautions in schools, worried about Bella's health, Katie Pape wants people to know exactly how her daughter died, but the Cedarburg School District is steering clear from using the word COVID.

Bella Pape died on Feb. 14, after a three-week battle with COVID-19. The 13-year-old was born with Kabuki syndrome, which caused severe health problems and made her more vulnerable to COVID.

So Katie Pape advocated for masks and other precautions in schools to protect Bella and others with health issues. She says the Cedarburg School Board largely ignored her.

The mask mandate was lifted for the 2021-2022 school year. Pape kept Bella out of school, but Bella's older brother attended school in person in the district.

"Is the small inconvenience of wearing a mask really worth someone's life being lost like Bella's?" Pape said.

Now Pape is frustrated the district ignored her again when they notified families that Bella died.

"The school district sent out a letter reporting her death that was untruthful," Pape said. "They did not state her cause of death as COVID, and even though I specifically stated it needed to be said it was COVID."

The letter that went out to families at Webster Middle School says Bella died after "a lifelong battle with multiple medical conditions and complications."

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office report states the immediate cause of death was COVID-19.

In a statement to CBS 58, the district said, "We are saddened by this loss and will make every effort to support the school community. This loss is sure to raise many emotions, concerns, and questions for our entire community, but especially for our students."

CBS 58 asked a district spokeswoman why the letter to families, and the statement sent to CBS 58, do not mention COVID.

The spokeswoman said, "The purpose of the letter to Webster Middle School families on the 14th was to simply share the sad news of a student's passing and how the school community can support each other during this difficult time. Any specific questions regarding the student should be addressed to the family."

CBS 58 followed up and asked why the district told families Bella died from a lifelong illness and not COVID-19 as Pape requested, and the medical examiner reported.

The district did not respond.

"I just feel like that was not honoring her life and it was disrespecting the agonizing fight she's had for the last three weeks," Pape said.

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