Panic spreads through Poplarville after school employee's return from Africa

Panic spreads through Poplarville after school employee's return from Africa

POPLARVILLE, MS (WLOX) - Concerned parents within the Poplarville School District have prodded a response from state school officials concerning a school district employee who is returning from a mission trip in Africa.

According to Mississippi School Board Association Attorney Jim Keith, a Poplarville School District employee left for Africa on Oct. 11, for a mission trip. Keith said the man is returning to South Mississippi this weekend after the week-long trip.

With the recent Ebola outbreak in three African countries, parents are concerned the man may bring the potentially deadly disease back with him. Keith said school district and city officials are taking the proper precautions to ensure everyone's children will be safe.

"We have not confirmed he has visited the three countries infected in Africa," said Keith. "Once he gets back, he will be put in touch with the Mississippi Department of Health. They will be interviewing him and determining further if he is a risk based on where he went in Africa, who he visited, etc."

Keith says the school district will not let the man return to work until the health department clears him of any health risk.

"We're not going to put any of our students or employees in harm's way," said Keith.

School officials say the man is a long-time, dependable employee. Ed Sternod, transportation director of the district, said people shouldn't be concerned about their children's safety.

"I can assure people that we won't have the driver come back unless we know we will be safe and the children will be safe. That's the No. 1 priority - our children and our staff," Sternod said.

Alicia Kimball, mother of two children in the district, has some reservations.

"I mean, I know the school district will do what they can. But, of course, they are my children, and I want to do everything for them that I can and our community," Kimball said.

Poplarville officials say that they would take the recommendation of the Health Department, but may go even further with any restrictions necessary.

As for the employee, Jim Keith promised the man will be paid if he is forced to take time off.

"If you have someone who has no symptoms and has not developed any symptoms over an incubation period, there's no reason to keep this person out of their employment," said Keith. "If he has not visited a problematic country in Africa and has no symptoms, obviously the state Department of Health won't keep him from his work."

Poplarville Mayor Brad Necaise released a statement Thursday afternoon saying the city is working with the school district to make sure no children are exposed to any health risks.

"I have communicated with and understand the Poplarville School District, superintendent, school board and state officials are very proactively handling and potential matters related to Ebola," said Necaise. "The City of Poplarville will support Poplarville School District decisions. I assuredly say, this is a very important concern. Our school district is staying in communication with the city. We will stay informed and provide details as they become available."

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