Ebola, the actual virus, has not hit New Jersey — but Ebola panic certainly has, judging by the reactions of parents at an elementary school, over a pair of little kids who recently moved with their family from the country of Rwanda. Due to the parents’ high anxiety over Ebola, the children have been forced to miss the start of school, as parents and officials waited until the 21-day incubation period for the virus had passed.
There’s only one problem. The Afrcan Ebola outbreak is confined to West Africa, primarily in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Rwanda is in East Africa — about 2,600 miles from any cases of Ebola reported in the current, devastating outbreak.
The parents of kids at Howard Yocum Elementary School, however, say they are not interested in such finer points of geography.
“Anybody from that area should just stay there until all this stuff is resolved. There’s nobody affected here let’s just keep it that way,” parent John Povlow told Philadelphia’s Fox 29.
“I think for another couple weeks,” another parent, Billy Dennison, said. “I don’t think it would hurt, I mean you have a lot of children that are involved.”
In fairness to the parents, the Maple Shade School District itself seems to have initiated the Ebola panic by sending a letter to teachers informing them that the two Rwandan children were about to start school there on Monday. As a “precaution,” school nurses would monitor the children and take their temperatures three times each day for the first 21 days, to make sure that neither had somehow contracted Ebola from almost 3,000 miles away.
But when rumors about the letter started to spread among parents, the school posted it publicly online.
“We have students who have spent time in the eastern portion of Africa that were scheduled to start in our schools on Monday,” Superintendent Beth Norcia wrote in the letter. “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 letter did not make clear whether the Rwandan kids’ own parents volunteered to keep them home for three weeks, or whether the New Jersey school had pressured them into doing so in order to avoid further Ebola panic.
On Monday, however, Nocia reversed course, posting another open letter saying that the Rwandan students would be “welcomed” into the school “next week,” and stating that the decision to keep the children at home was not “mean-spirited or ill intended.”
Rwanda has so far experienced the exact same number of Ebola cases as New Jersey — zero. The United States, a country with a population of over 300 million, has seen three cases, one of which was fatal. But in what is certainly a coincidence, Rwandan authorities on Saturday ordered that all travelers coming from the U.S. must be screened for Ebola before entering the country.