Two students arriving from Rwanda were set to start school at Howard Yocum Elementary in Maple Shade, New Jersey, earlier this month but the school’s fear about Ebola kept them from doing so.
According to Fox 29, a school nurse sent a letter to teachers and staff warning them that two students from an east African nation had enrolled and would soon start classes. Rwanda is Ebola-free—so much so, that it recently started screening and strictly monitoring travelers visiting from the United States. The nation, which straddles east and central Africa, is nowhere near Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, which have been ravaged by the virus.
Rwanda’s closest to Liberia, but at a distance of nearly 3,000 miles—roughly the distance between Dallas, Texas, and Quito, Ecuador. Nevertheless, a rumor about the children enrolling in the school spread to parents.
In a post that’s dated October 18—a Saturday—Maple Shade’s school superintendent attempted to clarify the district’s position:
The Maple Shade School District takes the health of all students and staff very seriously. As many of you are aware, we have students who have spent time in the eastern portion of Africa that were scheduled to start in our schools on Monday. This area of Africa has been unaffected by the Ebola virus. Despite the fact that the students are symptom-free and not from an affected area, the parents have elected to keep their children home past the 21 day waiting period. The family is looking forward to joining the Maple Shade Schools the following week.
Please see the links below for more information about the Ebola virus.
Beth Norcia, Superintendent of Schools
Fox 29 then reported on developments and spoke with local parents:
FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV
After considerable media attention, the district apologized on Monday:
Dear Maple Shade Community Members:
As you know, the Maple Shade School District has been the object of extensive media coverage and community dialogue over the past several days. Our schools have become the unwitting “face” of our nation’s fears with regard to pressing health concerns.
If we step back as a community, it is clear that we are of one mind. We all care about our children. New parents were anxious to enroll their children in our public school system. A staff member was anxious to allay any possible fears even before they arose. Community members raised questions about potential health risks to all of our children.
None of the actions that have shined the regional light of media exposure on Maple Shade Schools was mean-spirited or ill intended.
Next week, we will welcome the new students whose parents graciously offered to keep them close this week. Our staff, students and entire school family will be enriched by their presence, as we are by each and every student with us today.
As these students enter our doors, we vow to safeguard them and offer them the best possible education here in the Maple Shade Schools. That is our promise to every student.
We will, however, consider the unintended consequences of our messages more carefully in the future. No matter how well intentioned, a message that originated within our schools created conflict and concern within the Maple Shade community. We offer our sincere apologies.
The kids are expected to finally be able to attend school next week.