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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Ebola Scare Hits Connecticut 3rd Graders

HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) - "Fears and myths" about Ebola are keeping a third grader just back from a wedding in Nigeria out of school in Milford, Conn., she claims in Federal Court.

Ikeoluwa Opayemi filed the suit through her father, Stephen, on Tuesday, claiming that Milford and its school system will not her return to Meadowside Elementary School until Nov. 3.

Milford instituted its 21-day ban on the girl because she and her father were in Lagos, Nigeria, for a family wedding between Oct. 2 and Oct. 13, according to the complaint.

The Opayemis say that the school's actions "are based on fears related to the outbreak of Ebola in countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia in West Africa."

Milford's health department and its school superintendent, Elizabeth Feser, decided to ban the 7-year-old even though she has not been diagnosed with Ebola and has not exhibited any of the symptoms of Ebola, according to the complaint.

The defendants have also allegedly refused offers by the Opayemis to screen them.

When Stephen Opayemis insisted during a meeting at the school that he would send his daughter back to classes on Oct. 20, Feser threatened that "she would order her to be removed from the school by the police," the complaint states.

In a letter to the Opayemis, "Feser explained that '... while we understand your position that there is no health risk at this time, my concern is with the protection and well-being of the entire school community, including your daughter.' Dr. Feser said that requiring Ikeoluwa to 'stay out of school for the 21 day incubation period' was the 'smaller risk,'" the complaint states (ellipses in original).

Milford's public health director, Dr. Dennis McBride, allegedly told the Opayemis the day after they returned from their trip that Ikeoluwa should not attend school.

He "said Ikeoluwa should continue to remain at home until the 'climate' changes and the rumors at her school stop," the complaint states. "He explained that their decision was based on their desire to address the concern of some teachers, staff and parents."

The Opayemis meanwhile point out that "Nigeria is several hundred miles away from the three countries where the Ebola outbreak has occurred." There have been no new Ebola cases in Nigeria since Aug. 31, 2014, according to the complaint.

"On October 20, 2014, the World Health Organization ('WHO') stated that Nigeria was officially free of Ebola," the complaint states. "WHO Country Director Rui Gama Vaz called the country's containment of the disease a 'spectacular success story.'"

The Opayemis want permission for return Ikeoluwa to class and compensation for the emotional trauma she has suffered as a result.

Milford and its school System are accused of violating Title II of the Americans with Disability Act, which provides that "in determining whether an individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, a public entity must make an individualized assessment, based on reasonable judgment that relies on current medical knowledge or on the best available objective evidence, to ascertain the nature, duration, and severity of the risk; the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and whether reasonable modification of policies, practices and procedures or the provision of auxiliary aids or services will mitigate the risk."

Gary Phelan, an attorney for the Opayemis with Mitchell and Sheahan of Stratford, says the defendants never offered the requisite independent evaluation of his clients.

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