Children who were expected to start classes today at a South Jersey school will now stay at home even longer after serving the 21-day waiting period meant for those traveling from Africa, the school district announced.
However, the district — Maple Shade Schools in Burlington County— is now catching heat since many are accusing officials of discriminating against African students. Superintendent Beth Norcia took to the website again Monday afternoon after her original post letting parents know that the students would be staying home another week.
"Our schools have become the unwitting 'face' of our nation's fears with regard to pressing health concerns," she wrote. "None of the actions that have shined the regional light of media exposure on Maple Shade Schools was mean-spirited or ill intended."
The students in question are not suffering from Ebola symptoms nor are they from an infected area of Africa. Norcia said in the original letter that the children's parents have "elected to keep their children home past the 21-day waiting period." The second letter says "Next week, we will welcome the new students whose parents graciously offered to keep them close this week."
The children are from Rwanda which is more than 2,500 miles away from the affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in West Africa.
The original letter to parents on the school district's website reads:
"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 andnotfrom 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."
The updated letter includes:
"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."
Norcia responded to an email sent to her Monday afternoon directing us to the school district's website. She added: "I appreciate everyone’s concern and hope everyone respects our privacy as we continue to move our focus back on educating all of our children."