Kofi Mason-Sesay, 9, with his mother Miriam Mason-Sesay
Healthy nine-year-old Kofi Mason-Sesay has been banned from St Simon’s Catholic Primary School in Stockport, near Manchester, due to paranoia among parents that he may carry the Ebola virus.
Kofi, from Sierra Leone, has joint Sierra Leonean and British nationality. He was expecting to study temporarily at St Simon’s this month whilst his mother, Miriam Mason-Sesay, a Briton who has lived and worked in Sierra Leone since 2000, carried out fundraising work for Sierra Leonean charity EducAid.
Kofi and his mother were both screened by the Health Protection agency when travelling to England and bother were rated Category 1, meaning there should be no restrictions placed on their movement whilst in the UK. In spite of Public Health England confirming that there was no risk from Kofi or his mother attending the school, Kofi has nonetheless been banned.
It is believed that a group of parents started a petition against Kofi’s visit and pressured the school to act. Kofi’s mother has expressed her distress at the move to ban her son without good reason. “It’s heartbreaking. Unfortunately there was so much pressure from an ignorant parent body that the school had to act,” said Ms Mason-Sesay.
The school’s head teacher, Elizabeth Inman wrote a letter to parents on Tuesday to say that it was, "with a very heavy heart" that the school had taken "the pragmatic decision" to ban Kofi from attending the school.
Ms Inman made it clear that the refused entry was not really necessary but a measure taken to satisfy parents who are ignorant about Ebola and how it is spread, saying, “I understand that there is a lot of misinformation about how Ebola is spread. A significant number of parents have been in touch with me to express their fears. […] As you know, I always listen to parents. Ebola cannot be spread as some parents have suggested.” The head teacher added that, “It is with great sadness that we decided to cancel the visit. The misguided hysteria emerging is extremely disappointing, distracting us from our core purpose of educating your children and is not an environment that I would wish a visitor to experience.”
Being denied admittance to the school has left Kofi feeling saddened and rejected. “I was really surprised and I felt bad because they [have] never rejected me before. I am kind of upset about what they have done,” said the nine-year-old boy.
Kofi, who has never experienced any such prejudice or isolation on previous visits to the UK, also remarked on a noticeable change in attitudes to him as a West African since the recent outbreak of Ebola. “It is just now that we know the crisis of Ebola is here, the problem is coming,” he said. He continued,“It really has changed people’s attitudes. Now you can’t go anywhere if you are from areas which have recently had Ebola, you can’t go near people because they will just reject you.”
Kofi’s mother, Miriam Mason-Sesay, 48, is Country Director for Educaid, an education charity in Sierra Leone. Last year Ms Mason-Sesay received an MBE for her remarkable contribution to education and charity work. She was also made a Member of the Order of the Rokel by the President of Sierra Leone. Ms Mason-Sesay has remarked on the wider significance of the ordeal that her son has been put through. “If Kofi is home educated for a month it is not the end of the world. It is the bigger picture that is the problem,” said the charity worker. She added, “If we are being treated like this, how will others from Sierra Leone be treated, how will West Africans be treated?”