The Ebola-fear-fueled decision to put a teacher on paid leave after she visited Dallas was questioned by several officials and board members of the school district following state and national scrutiny of the decision.

Emails among officials and board members of School Administrative District 58, released after a Freedom of Access request by the Morning Sentinel, show several questioned the decision to put the teacher on 21-day paid leave after she visited Dallas at the same time a patient, who later died, was being treated for Ebola in the city.

Chairman Dan Worcester of Phillips, who voted in favor of removing the teacher from the school, said in an email to board members Oct. 19 that “In the future, we should always remember that the few people at the meeting screaming at us about one particular issue is not all the people we represent.

“Giving in to a group of people that show up and scream the loudest is not always the best thing for the district,” he wrote.

In an email sent the Monday after the teacher was put on leave, school nurse Rose Winter called the decision to put the teacher on leave one “made in fear by people doing their best at the time” and suggested the board hold a forum to show the students, public and teacher “how to admit mistakes, apologize and choose better action.”

Other members also suggested informational panels or forums where experts could educate the community and ease fears.

School board members who could be reached Friday declined to comment and the school’s website listed no information suggesting that such a forum was held or will be held. Documents in the Freedom of Access Act request contained emails asking for the forums, but no emails suggesting such events were planned.

Friday, some of the parents whose complaints lead to the teacher’s leave, said their complaints were misunderstood, and not based on fear of Ebola, but about “transparency” and “giving everyone more time.”

The teacher, whose name has not been made public and was redacted from the emails released to the Sentinel, was put on paid leave after a group of parents attended an Oct. 16 school board meeting with concerns about the potential spread of the disease, which is sweeping several west Africa countries.

The teacher attended a seminar held by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Dallas, and while in the city of 1.2 million did not come in contact with the patient, who at the time had the country’s first confirmed uncontrolled case of the virus and was in a hospital about 10 miles from where the seminar was being held. Ebola is only spread by close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal.

Worcester, in his Oct. 19 email to board members, said that the school board would not revisit the decision to put the teacher on leave unless the majority of the members requested to.

Worcester wrote the board “is no smarter or dumber than any other” and said part of the board’s concern was whether 10 or 12 parents would keep their kids out of school out of fear if the board did not put the teacher on leave.

Board member Julie Talmage, who was among those who voted against the measure, said in an email the week after the school board meeting that she would be in support of a forum to “encourage a thoroughly informed constituent.” She wrote in the email that she felt the board had a duty to the students to give a wider perspective on Ebola.

“Just a thought … if a family with school aged children from Dallas, Texas, moved to our district today and requested to enroll students in our schools, we could not prevent them from attending … this week,” she wrote.

Winter, the school nurse, wrote “now that it is understood that the decision to isolate a person who has had no contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an Ebola infected person is not medically sound, we need to find the right way to retract a decision made in fear by people doing their best at the time.”

The FOAA documents listed the names and home towns of the eight parents who raised concerns at the board meeting. One of those parents, Matthew Dexter of Strong, said all parents “knew that there was very low risk” the teacher had contracted Ebola, but many were upset that the teacher could have been back in the classroom without parents knowing she had been to Dallas. He said it was a transparency issue.

“My biggest beef was, look, at the time, it was the only known hotspot in the United States and they thought it was a good idea to not let anybody know,” he said Friday.

Elizabeth Marble of Freeman Township, one of the eight parents who raised concerns at the Oct. 16 board meeting, said the main concern in advocating for the period of leave wasn’t Ebola exposure, but as a way to shield the teacher from concern about the virus at a time when national uncertainly around it was high.

“The point was missed,” Marble said. “There were some parents who were concerned, but the reason the school board did this was to give everyone more time.”

Marble said while people in her community were derided after the school’s decision, which made national headlines, reactions to Ebola in other parts of the country have been similar.

“The whole country is nuts about Ebola now,” she said, laughing. “It’s not necessarily just Franklin County nutjobs, but that’s how we were portrayed and that’s fine. I’m not going to stop living here.”

On Oct. 15, the day before the board voted to put the teacher on leave, the school district sent a letter home with the students letting parents know that the teacher attended a conference in Dallas, but the only way to get Ebola is by direct contact with someone with symptoms of the virus. Ebola is only spread by close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal.

Three school board members reached by the Morning Sentinel on Friday — Lois Barker of Strong and Faith Richard of Phillips, who voted for the period of leave, and Ann Schwink, a doctor from Strong who opposed it — declined comment when asked about the reasons for their votes.

The pay for a long-term substitute teacher is $65 for the first 10 days and then $168.37 daily if the substitute works in the same classroom without interruption.

Staff Writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this story.


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