By Jim Melwert
MAPLESHADE, NJ. (CBS) — Fears caused by the spread of Ebola are keeping two students out of an elementary school in Maple Shade, New Jersey.
Two children who spent time in eastern Africa were supposed to start class Monday at Howard Yocum Elementary School. The area is almost 3,000 miles from the Ebola outbreak, but a school nurse sent a letter to staff saying precautions would be taken following the guidelines from the Burlington County Health Department. Once parents found out, concern spread through the community.
“I don’t care if they’re 85-million miles away,” said Bill Chapman, whose child is a first-grader at the school. “What’s the background? Do they have aunts, uncles, cousins, family that were in the Liberia area? You know, it’s definitely scary, and you just have to wait and see, I guess.”
“With them taking the additional week and staying out past the 21 days it puts a little more of my concerns and fears at ease,” adds mother Nickiesha Samuels.
But some others who have children at the school think people are overreacting.
“It’s all over Facebook and everything. The kids were from an unaffected area, so I think people are just being paranoid,” said Carlos Torres. “More kids are going to be looked at as alienated when they come back, and the right precautions have been made.”
“There needs to be open communication and I thought there was. People are going to react the way they’re going to react based on their own personal experiences and their fears,” says mother Christine Charley.
Despite the fact that the students are symptom-free, the parents of the two children have elected to keep them home past the 21-day waiting period.
The school district did alert parents and residents through a statement on its website that read:
“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.”
Later Monday, the district later released another statement reading in part: “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.”
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