CDC Issues Guidance on School Ebola Risk Assessment and Response

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Many will recall the recent incident where a Connecticut school district barred a student, who had recently returned from Lagos, Nigeria, from school for twenty-one days due to Ebola concerns. While the propriety of the district’s actions have been questioned by some, including the student’s parents, who filed a lawsuit, no one can dispute that Ebola presents difficult challenges to school administrators charged with the education, health and welfare of all students and staff. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, [“CDC”] recognizing both the challenges the Ebola risk presents to educators and the growing stigmatization of those perceived to pose that risk, issued interim guidance  addressing Ebola response to K-12 districts and administrators on December 15, 2014. Shortly after issuance, the United States Department of Education referenced it in “Guidance for Schools and Districts About Ebola”  disseminated in early January, 2015.

Noting that school districts will most often confront perceived, and not actual, risk of Ebola exposure, the CDC guidance is directed at assisting educators in recognizing and appropriately addressing Ebola risk situations in a manner designed to both minimize the risk of discrimination against, and counter the stigma associated with, those perceived to be Ebola risks. The CDC guidance: (1) provides districts with important information concerning Ebola, its symptoms and transmission; (2) reviews the role and responsibilities of public health authorities with respect to Ebola while cautioning administrators not to assume such roles, (3) encourages educators to proactively establish communication with the local health authorities for timely exchange of Ebola information; and (4) encourages districts and schools to prepare in advance appropriate plans for preventing or responding to Ebola infections.

Notably, the CDC guidance specifically instructs administrators that the decision as to whether a student or staff person with possible recent (21 day) exposure to Ebola should attend school is ultimately to be made by local public health authorities. Regardless of how comfortable administrators may be adopting a recommendation that they cede control over school access to non-school authorities, the CDC guidance does provide specific decision trees/protocols for use by administrators confronting circumstances where a student or staff member exhibits symptoms of Ebola or has come into contact with a person suspected of having Ebola. These protocols instruct administrators on the information to be gathered as well as the steps to be taken to protect students and staff from potential infection during the risk assessment period.

Finally, the CDC guidance also provides links to a number of useful Ebola, education and labor-related resources. While school administrators are certainly already intimately familiar with many of these resources, most should nonetheless appreciate having access to all such resources linked in one document.