Connecticut school defends keeping girl out over Ebola fears

By David Ingram (Reuters) - A Connecticut school superintendent on Wednesday defended the decision to keep a 7-year-old girl out of class for three weeks out of concern that the girl might have contracted Ebola while attending a wedding in Nigeria. Elizabeth Feser, superintendent of the Milford public schools, denied allegations that the girl's family made on Tuesday in a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit that asked that she be allowed back into school. "In addressing this situation, at all times, my staff and I proceeded in good faith to respond to this public health issue," Feser said in a statement. "We acted in the best interest of all of our students and staff." Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, 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 nearly 5,000 people have died: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Third-grader Ikeoluwa Opayemi traveled to Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city, between Oct. 2 and Oct. 13 with her father, who is a native of the country, according to the lawsuit. City and school officials told Ikeoluwa not to return to school until Nov. 3, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit asks that she be allowed to return to class immediately because she has no symptoms associated with Ebola and is not a threat to others. An attorney for the Opayemi family, Gary Phelan, said that school officials were ignoring federal law by keeping Ikeoluwa out, and that the family had little choice but to sue after officials said they would use police force if necessary to block her. "When you threaten to have the police remove a 7-year-old from school in front of all her classmates, that's when you do something like turn to an attorney, and that's what they did," Phelan said in an interview. The lawsuit was filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on someone having a physical or mental impairment or on the belief that someone has such an impairment. The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Michael Shea. He has not ordered a hearing. 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; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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