(Adds interview with girl's mother and neighbor. Adds local
officials declining to comment, details from lawsuit)
By David Ingram and Richard Weizel
MILFORD, Conn. Oct 28 A father sued a
Connecticut elementary school on Tuesday, saying his 7-year-old
daughter was discriminated against and banned from school for 21
days based on irrational fears of Ebola because she attended a
wedding in Nigeria.
Stephen Opayemi filed the lawsuit in federal court in New
Haven, Connecticut. He asked a judge to order the schools in
Milford, Connecticut, to immediately permit his daughter to
return to her third-grade class.
Opayemi's daughter has not experienced any symptoms
associated with Ebola and her health is fine, but parents and
teachers were concerned she could transmit Ebola to other
children, the lawsuit says.
"We're hoping this will get her back into school as soon as
possible," the girl's mother, Ikeolapo Opayemi, said in a brief
interview at their home.
Although the mother declined to discuss details of the
lawsuit, citing the advice of the family's attorney, she said
they had lived in Milford for more than six years. Asked if she
was surprised by the school system's actions, she nodded in
Nigeria had 20 Ebola cases and eight deaths this year before
the World Health Organization declared the country Ebola-free on
Oct. 19. The epidemic is centered in three other West African
countries, where about 5,000 people have died: Guinea, Liberia
and Sierra Leone.
The Connecticut third-grader, Ikeoluwa Opayemi, traveled to
and from Lagos, Nigeria, between Oct. 2 and Oct. 13, according
to the lawsuit. Her father, a native of Nigeria, also went.
Jonathan Berchem, the Milford city attorney, said he had not
seen the suit and could not comment on it. Elizabeth Feser, the
school superintendent, did not return a call requesting comment
but said in an email she had not been served with the suit.
African communities in the United States have reported an
increasing amount of ostracism since the Ebola epidemic began.
At least two speeches by Liberians have been canceled by U.S.
universities, and a college in Texas refused admission to
Nigerian students over worries about the virus.
A neighbor of the Opayemi family, Prashant Batil, said his
6-year-old plays often with Ikeoluwa and that he believed the
school system was overreacting.
"The parents are extremely responsible people, and if they
say she does not have Ebola, I would have no reluctance for my
daughter to play with her," Batil said in an interview.
Opayemi's suit was filed under the Americans with
Disabilities Act. The law prohibits discrimination based on
someone having a physical or mental impairment, or on the belief
that someone has such an impairment.
Milford officials refused the father's offer to have both
himself and his daughter screened for Ebola, the suit says.
According to the suit, a city health official said in an
Oct. 15 meeting that the risk of the girl infecting anyone was
minor but that she ought to be quarantined because of rumors,
panic and the climate of the school.
City and school officials told Ikeoluwa not to return to
school until Nov. 3, the suit says.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says
there is little risk or no risk of contracting Ebola unless
someone has been in close contact with a person who has it and
who is symptomatic.
Grappling with an unfamiliar public health threat, some
state and local officials have called the federal guidelines
insufficient to protect Americans and have imposed tougher
New York and New Jersey have insisted on mandatory
quarantines for travelers arriving from Guinea, Liberia and
Sierra Leone who had contact with Ebola patients.
The case is Ikeoluwa Opayemi v. Milford Public Schools and
City of Milford, U.S. District Court for the District of
Connecticut, No. 3:14-cv-01597.
(Reporting by David Ingram in New York and Richard Weizel in
Milford; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli, James Dalgleish and Lisa