Still no response from school district, family claims discrimination and fighting for change

Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 3:25 PM CST
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ASHLAND, Wis. (WSAW) - Two weeks after a family’s attorney sent a letter to the Ashland School District wanting a response to what they believe was discrimination on the school’s part, the district has not replied to them.

Feb. 16, 7 Investigates shared what happened to the Maday children after the family was told their oldest child, a 9-year-old boy, came in close contact with a student who tested positive for COVID-19. The family’s attorney, Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, a civil rights lawyer and owner of Systems Change Consultant, shared the family’s experience on their behalf saying the district did not follow its own policies and protocols for COVID-19 mitigation equally.

Now, the mother, Kelly Maday, is sharing her experience directly. Her husband and children are Native American, specifically members of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa. She believes her children were treated differently for that reason.

“The only difference between all of these other students that haven’t had to quarantine or their siblings haven’t had to quarantine is my children are Native American and they’re not. That’s the only reason I can come up with that they would do this to my kids,” Maday concluded.

Let’s go back to where this all started; Maday said she was told on Feb. 2 around 10 a.m. by the school nurse that her son in the middle school was exposed on Jan. 28 to a student who tested positive for COVID-19.

“According to my son, that student was not in school on Friday the 29th,” she stated.

The nurse told her that her son would need to stay home until Feb. 8 to quarantine.

“I said, ‘OK,’ and she said, ‘Is he exhibiting any symptoms?’ I said, ‘No, not at all.’ She asked if I had other children in the district, I told her we did, and she said they would have to quarantine too. And I said, ‘They’re at school right now; they were at school yesterday; they were at school Friday. No one has any symptoms.’”

Maday said she then gave the nurse four different scenarios she was directly aware of where students came in close contact with other students who tested positive and did not have to quarantine or have their siblings quarantine; most involved athletes.

“I rattled off the different scenarios where a basketball player tested positive and no one quarantined and he was with the whole team,” she recalled. “You know, no one had to stay home from school, nor did they cancel games. [The] Same thing with a hockey player, none of them had to stay home from school nor did their siblings and there were several other cases, just ones that I was aware of through the community. And I said, ‘Why wasn’t that [COVID-19 protocol] followed with them? Now you’re making my 5-year-old and 9-year-old come home and not go to school ‘til Feb. 8?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that’s our policy.’ And I asked why that wasn’t followed with other people and I was given the, ‘We cannot discuss this.’”

Maday said she told the nurse that she would keep her son, who was exposed, home, but her other child would remain in school just as other students’ siblings were able to remain in school, following the policy the district sent to parents in September. Then, the call ended.

About an hour later, she said she had a voicemail from the nurse on her phone who said that her two children were pulled from class and placed in the isolation rooms at their respective schools and that they would remain there until someone picked them up. She said they also called her husband who was in the middle of a test at work and could not leave at that time. Maday stated she checked with the other people listed as their children’s emergency contacts with the schools and learned they were not contacted.

According to the school’s policy about the isolation rooms, which was listed in the district’s re-opening plan, it states “Each building has identified an isolation room to separate anyone who exhibits COVID-like symptoms.” Again, Maday told the nurse her children did not have symptoms and asked why they were placed in there.

“She said, she spoke to administration and that’s what she was told to do. I said, ‘They don’t belong in there. If you’re going to have them in there, you better be teaching them virtually or whatever you’re doing.’ She said, ‘That’s not going to happen and you need to come pick them up.’”

She called her husband who was able to pick the children up after finishing his test. She also left work to be with her children and understand what had just happened.

“My daughter since that date has cried every single morning -- she’s 5 -- has not wanted to go to school, says she will not be put back in that room again,” Maday said. “She did say the nurse was nice that sat in the room with her, so I will give them that. But she, even this morning (Feb. 18), got a call from her teacher, she was crying after going to school. She was crying this morning at school wanting to come home, wanting to go get her brother and go home. [She] Didn’t want to be there.”

Maday continued, “My 9-year-old, his question was basically, ‘Mom,’ he said, ‘You tell us, you told us the safest place to be is outside during COVID and I was outside at recess and they came and got me from recess and put me in this room inside. So, is it really-- what’s the deal?’ And I’m like, it is the safest place to be and I don’t know honey, but we’ll figure it out.’”

“My daughter’s question was, you know, I said, ‘What were you told while you were in there? Do you have any questions?’ And she said she was told that my older son-- my oldest son was around somebody who was sick, so he’s probably going to be sick, and then we’re going to be sick and get everybody sick at the school, so we need to go home so that we can keep everybody safe. And ‘Mom, are we all going to be sick? Are we OK?’”

She sent an email to the district asking numerous questions about what happened Feb. 2. The superintendent responded via email the next day stating, “Let me first respond unequivocally: in every instance where a student has been identified as a ‘close contact’ of a COVID-19 positive person, that student and his/her siblings have been subject to a quarantine. Your conclusions about who may have been a close contact of a COVID-19 positive case may indeed be different than what we determined, but I can assure you of this: we have conducted no different analysis or investigation with respect to your children as we have undertaken in other situations where we become aware that a student has tested positive for COVID-19.”

In the policy sent to parents, it noted that parents of children who have come in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case would receive a letter with further instructions. Maday said they never received a letter.

The Madays then retained Spitzer-Resnick who sent a letter the following Monday, which the district has not responded to. Spitzer-Resnick said they want to talk with the district and offered remediations. The district has declined 7 Investigates’ interview requests, though stated there are policies. The district has not responded to the most recent request for comment and an interview as of Feb. 22.

Maday wanted to make it clear, she did keep her children home from school after the district directed her to do so and did not return them to in-person learning until Feb. 8 when they were told they could come back. She got her son tested for COVID-19 the next day on Feb. 3, six days since her son’s exposure, which came back negative. According to CDC guidelines, her son would be able to come back from quarantine sooner, but after asking the district if that was possible, she said she received no response.

She urged they are not pandemic-deniers and follow COVID-19 safety mitigations and CDC recommendations, but reiterated the procedures were not followed equally for other students.

“I think there should be (COVID-19) policy, but the policy should be followed by everyone; it needs to be the same across the board. They cannot just pick and choose who they want to impose a policy on,” she said.

She also is aware that parents in other districts receive updated policies from their school districts regularly as changes are made, but she has not seen any policy updates since September.

She said she wants there to be change to ensure all students are treated equally. She explained they will take the district to court if necessary.

“This is a fight that I will fight to the end, my husband and I, not just for our kids, but for all of the rest of the kids that have experienced this also.”

Maday said the tribal council has indicated its support of the family. 7 Investigates reached out to the chairman but has not heard back.

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