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Posted: May 3, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Student sent home for wearing surgical mask

Same student allowed to stay in school with mask on Friday

A middle school student was sent home from school Thursday morning after refusing to remove a surgical mask he was wearing to protect himself from swine flu.

According to the 13-year-old’s mother Angela Crummley, her son Austin, who attends Cousins Middle School, got on his school bus at 7:25 a.m. and by 8:25 a.m. the school had called her to come and pick him up.

"They said they had Austin in the office and that his mask was disrupting the other kids and scaring them," she said. "But they weren’t upset. They were all telling Austin that they were going to get masks, too."

According to Angela, she was told that Austin was taksen to the office by his homeroom teacher who reportedly told him she understood why he was wearing the mask but that he could not do so in class. He was told by administrators that he had the option of taking the mask off and returning to class or leaving it on and going home. Austin elected not to remove his mask.

"He said the office ladies were laughing at him when his teacher brought him up," Angela said. "And that really makes me angry. It wasn’t the kids that were ridiculing him, it was the adults. He said that one girl came up to him and went to give him a high-five but he said he was scared to touch her."

Angela says that she has an open house and that Austin, along with his brothers, 11-year-old Aaron and 8-year-old Tye, watch the news together and discuss things that are happening in the world. Both younger boys attend Ficquett Elementary School and have worn the masks to school and neither has been asked to leave, according to Angela.

Director of Public Relations for the Newton County School System, Sherri Viniard, verified that a student at Ficquett wore a mask to school but, "did not create a disturbance there." She added that it was at the principal’s responsibility to make, "day-to-day decisions that impact the school’s operations."

According to Angela, her trips to several local stores yielded no masks and that the stores that do have them have a limited supply in stock. She also said that while she herself did not wear the masks, she also didn’t get very close to people so she didn’t feel it was as much a concern for her. "We’re not being neurotic," she said. "But my kids have a right to protect themselves. They aren’t scared; they just want to take precautions."

When told that Austin was causing a disruption in school with the mask, Angela said that wasn’t the case, that he is popular and not a trouble-maker.

"My kids are on Adderall," she said. "So they don’t act out in school. It also wasn’t a panic issue and that was their [Newton County School System] rebuttal."

According to Viniard, "There have been no cases of Swine Flu reported in Newton County and only one in the state thus far. The student at Cousins was asked to remove his mask because it was creating a disturbance on campus. Students and faculty became worried that the student was infected with the virus. He was asked to remove it but did not. He called his mother and she came and picked him up before administrators could talk to her."

Angela said that her middle son Aaron told her the students at school were making fun of him for wearing his mask but that the teachers said they understood. She also said that her biggest concern was that her children are not overly concerned with germs and are constantly touching their faces and putting things in their mouths. She said that Austin tended to get sick more than anyone else in the family and had already missed several days this school year because of illnesses and two family emergencies.

"I don’t think I’m overreacting," she said. "The CDC, WHO (World Health Organization) and [President Barack] Obama are all saying this is serious and I think we should be able to protect ourselves if we choose to."

None of Angela’s children were sent home from school on Friday, and all went to school wearing the masks. She said that if he were sent home for that reason again, the family would look into taking legal action.

"We understand the concerns parents may have and if they would like to send their child to school with a mask, they may do so although we have been informed that wearing a mask is not necessary," said Viniard. "We have posted prevention tips on our Web site and a letter will go home with student today. We also participated in a conference call with East Metro Health today and are keeping in constant contact with them for updates and new information."

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