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Milford girl returns to school after father sued over Ebola fears

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UPDATE: The girl will return to school on Friday, Oct. 31 with no restrictions after her pediatrician certified she is free and clear of Ebola. The statement issued by the superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Feser, and the girl’s father, Stephen Opayemi, said the lawsuit will be settled.

MILFORD - The superintendent of Milford Schools has responded to a lawsuit brought by a father against the school system. The father, Stephen Opayemi, says his daughter was banned from school upon returning from West Africa because of fears over Ebola.

Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Elizabeth Feser, Milford's superintendent of schools, issued a statement:

On October 28, 2014, a lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut against the Milford Public Schools and City of Milford, claiming that the manner in which we responded to concerns about the return of a student who traveled to West Africa was improper. We deny this allegation. In addressing this situation, at all times, my staff and I proceeded in good faith to respond to this public health issue. We acted in the best interest of all of our students and staff.
Because this matter is the subject of pending litigation, there will be no further public comment.

After the statement's release, Fox CT spoke with Opayemi's lawyer, Gary Phelan, and got his response to what the school said:

There are 16 countries in West Africa, there’s an outbreak in three of them. Nigeria is hundreds of miles away from those countries. Unfortunately Milford Public Schools failed to mentioned that. The Milford Public Schools chose to sacrifice the rights of one student they knew was completely healthy based on unjustified fears which this statement has now exacerbated.

On Tuesday Opayemi told Fox CT he filed a lawsuit against the school. The family traveled to Nigeria for a wedding Oct. 2 through Oct. 12. When they returned on the 13th, the family was told the girl couldn't return to school for three weeks. The third-grade student is currently not attending class.

Nigeria is not one of the three main countries considered the "hot zone" of the Ebola outbreak.

Opayemi says the school system told him there was too much concern and it was a safety precaution. The school system also said there was a lot of confusion and the ruling was due to the climate of fear, according to Opayemi.

According to court paperwork, Milford's superintendent said if Opayemi's daughter went to class, "...she would order her to be removed from the school by police."

Opayemi's lawyer, Gary Phelan, said officials from both the school and city of Milford are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he said happens "when a municipality acts and treats someone as if they have a disability, and as in this case, prevents them from educational services."

Phelan said the school is providing the child with a tutor, but feels that is not enough.

"These are intelligent people who took this action and I think a lot of it is because of the fear of the community and that is what often results in discrimination," said Phelan. "You know, she still suffered and in part, is asking her parents, 'Why can't I go to school?'"

Read more on Ebola here.

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