Paranoid Parents Want Teacher Quarantined When She Returns From Ebola-Free Rwanda

Moms and dads in Blackwell, Oklahoma, have launched a petition demanding that the educator not be allowed in the classroom.

(Photo: Courtesy KOCO 5 News/Facebook)

Oct 29, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Since the arrival of Ebola on U.S. shores, a couple of things have become abundantly clear: No matter how often health officials say that the disease is not transmitted through casual contact—it’s easier to get a cold—plenty of Americans are witch-hunt-level paranoid about catching it. And too many folks have no clue about the geography of Africa or how big the continent is.

Combine those two things, and we get the sad situation that a teacher in Blackwell, Oklahoma, finds herself in. The educator, who teaches at Blackwell Elementary School, has an upcoming mission trip to Rwanda. The teacher, whose identity hasn't been revealed, is off to do good deeds. But after fearful parents in the 7,000-person town launched a petition expressing concern over the teacher’s possible exposure to Ebola, she agreed to quarantine herself for 21 days after she returns.

Rwanda is in East Africa and is 3,000 miles away from the nations on the western side of the continent—Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—that are dealing with Ebola outbreaks. Rwanda has never had a case of the disease. But some parents in Blackwell don’t seem to care about those facts.

“This just concerns me, they would want to take the risk of allowing the teacher to go over there and then come back and come in not knowing if she is infected [or] not and put other kids at risk,” Reba Newton, one of nearly 400 parents who signed the petition, told KWTV.

“If they weren't going to do anything we were just going to pull them out for 21 days,” added petition signer Shawn Wilson, whose three children attend Blackwell Elementary.

To alleviate any concerns, the teacher decided to self-quarantine instead.

“I told her we would put her on administrative leave at that time even though we don't think there's any possible danger she's going to contract it where she's going or anything like that,” the school district’s superintendent Rick Riggs told KWTV. “Just solve the parents' fears.”

Apparently, however, those parents aren’t afraid of people coming to town from Dallas—just 304 miles away—where Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan died in October. Not to give Blackwell residents any more bad ideas, but they’re also not demanding a quarantine on folks who might be traveling from New York City, where current Ebola patient Craig Spencer lives.

Education officials caving to parents’ irrational fears isn’t isolated to Blackwell. The virus is only transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s blood, vomit, or other bodily fluids, but that didn’t stop a Connecticut school district from barring a third grader who returned on Oct. 13 from Nigeria—which was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization on Oct. 20 after six weeks with no new cases—from attending classes at Meadowside Elementary in Milford, Connecticut. The girl’s family is now suing the school district.

According to the suit, the local superintendent agreed to send a tutor to the girl’s home so she could keep up with her studies, reported WTNH. However, if the family sent the child to class at the school, the superintendent “would order her to be removed from the school by the police.”

The superintendent in Blackwell seems to be thinking about the legal ramifications of the district's decision. "We will be reviewing our policies and if necessary making appropriate changes in consultation with the district's legal counsel," he wrote in a statement. In the meantime, it sure sounds like it wouldn't be a bad idea to offer parents in the community a class on Ebola transmission, and maybe a few geography lessons are in order too.