29 Oct 2014

Nigerian dad sues US school after daughter told to stay home amid Ebola concerns

A Nigerian father filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday asking the court to order the Milford school system to allow his daughter, who was told to stay home for 21 days because of fears about Ebola, to return to school.

Stephen Opayemi said that his daughter, a third-grader, was told to stay home for 21 days, the incubation period for the Ebola virus, after she returned from a trip to Nigeria. Her parents were told that she could not to return to Meadowside Elementary School until Nov. 3.


Opayemi said that he filed the suit not only to allow his daughter, Ikeoluwa, to return to school, but to publicize what he viewed as discrimination because of "fear and ignorance" about the disease.
"She is unfairly treated and discriminated against because of a fear some people have [that] she might have Ebola," Opayemi said.
Opayemi said that he and his daughter had traveled to Nigeria for 10 days to attend a family wedding in which she was the flower girl. The two returned on Oct. 13.

His suit was filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law prohibits discrimination based on someone's having a physical or mental impairment, or on the belief that someone has such an impairment.

Gary Phelan, Opayemi's attorney, said that there was no legal or medical basis for the decision to keep Opayemi's daughter home from school. He said that the decision was "a blatant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Phelan said that the lawsuit, together with getting Ikeoluwa Opayemi back to school before the date set by Milford officials, also seeks to deter other municipalities from a similar action.

Opayemi said he told school administrators and the health director that his daughter had no symptoms of Ebola and had no contact with anyone who had Ebola. He also informed them that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had removed any notices regarding Ebola for travel to Nigeria.

Opayemi said that he even took his daughter to be checked by a doctor to clear up any concerns. "Her physician gave her a clean bill of health. She was checked and she is OK," Opayemi said.

U.S. authorities have focused on three African countries that have experienced outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus: Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

"We did not visit the three countries," Opayemi said.

A state official said Tuesday that the city has been notified that Nigeria is not one of the African countries that has raised Ebola concerns. On Monday, the governor's office released a statement saying that the Department of Public Health is working with federal authorities and is being notified of any travelers arriving in Connecticut from the three affected West African countries.


Credit: Nicholas Rondinone/Hartford Courant

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