Durham County

Durham teen, barred from school over Ebola fear, wins court order to return

Somto Ubezonu, left, and his attorney, Dieter Mauch, answer questions after Friday’s ruling in Durham Superior Court.
Somto Ubezonu, left, and his attorney, Dieter Mauch, answer questions after Friday’s ruling in Durham Superior Court. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The parents of a teenager who had been barred from school over fears of Ebola went to court Friday so he could return to class.

Attorneys representing Samuel Ubezonu won a court order from Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson to allow the 16-year-old to return to Mount Zion Christian Academy.

Ubezonu’s parents said they received a letter on Oct. 28 from the private school advising them their son would have to do his studies at home for 21 days. School administrators also had planned to ban the teen from campus, where he is a member of the basketball team.

His father had been in Nigeria – a nation that the World Health Organization has said for weeks has been free of Ebola.

School Superintendent Donald Q. Fozard Sr. wrote, “We value your family and all of our families and consider it our foremost responsibility to maintain a facility that is both physically and environmentally safe for all.”

Samuel Ubezonu did not travel with his father, Somto Ubezonu, and had not been out of the country in six months, according to court documents.

The Durham Department of Public Health sent a letter to the school, saying the home study was not necessary and that travelers from Nigeria are not considered at risk for the deadly virus.

In a brief court hearing Friday, an attorney for the family voiced his frustration over the inaccurate information being disseminated about the deadly Ebola outbreak in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Most of the more than 14,100 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola have been diagnosed in those three nations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 5,100 deaths have been reported.

Ubezonu’s parents accused Mount Zion Academy of breach of contract and discrimination. The parents worry that their son’s absence from school has given students and others at the school the erroneous impression that he has Ebola.

“Certainly, everyone has a health concern about infectious diseases, and Ebola in particular, but we can’t just act out of fear,” Dieter Mauch, the attorney representing the family, said in court.

School officials did not speak at the hearing.

Hudson said afterward: “The school’s response is unreasonable based on the available scientific evidence.”

The Durham case is similar to others that have cropped up in the United States since a West African who traveled to Texas died from the virus.

In Stokes County, according to The Associated Press, the school board decided behind closed doors that a middle school assistant principal who traveled to South Africa would not be allowed to return to school for 21 days, estimated to be the maximum incubation period before people infected with the virus become symptomatic. South Africa is about 3,000 miles from the outbreak region.

School officials in Maple Shade, N.J., apologized in late October after an elementary school there became the “unwitting face” of the nation’s Ebola fears. A school nurse sent a letter to parents about two children from Rwanda, more than 2,000 miles from the current outbreak, that she planned to monitor for fever three times a day as a precaution against “a severe and often fatal virus,” the Courier-Post reported.

In Durham, Somto Ubezonu, a native of Nigeria, said after the court hearing Friday that his experience with Mount Zion is troubling.

“It has been terrible, horrifying for myself,” Ubezonu said. “My son was given unfair treatment from the school, which is highly uncalled for.”

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