Utah student was ordered to quarantine in school closet after COVID-19 exposure, lawsuit alleges

The student was asked to stay home after the reported exposure. When he came to school, he was put in the closet, the lawsuit alleges.

A nurse at Wahlquist Junior High School in Farr West quarantined a student in a school storage closet after the student was exposed to COVID-19 through a classmate, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in 2nd District Court.

The student had not demonstrated any symptoms of COVID-19, the lawsuit states. But the nurse had previously informed his mother, Deann Heaton, on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, that he needed to quarantine after coming in contact with a student who tested positive for more than fifteen minutes.

The teen wasn’t supposed to return to school until Nov. 13, 2020, the nurse said, or Nov. 6, 2020, if he tested negative, according to the complaint. When the mother questioned why the student needed to be held out of school if he had no symptoms, the nurse said the teen could end up hospitalized in an intensive care unit if he had COVID-19, the lawsuit states.

On Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, the student boarded a bus and went to school, where the lawsuit alleges he was stopped, then quarantined in a storage closet during first period. The lawsuit states the student was ordered to remain in the closet, which had no window, without his parents’ authorization.

In a statement Wednesday, Weber School District spokesperson Lane Findlay said, “At no time was a student placed in a closet at the school.”

Findlay said the school district disputes the allegations outlined in the complaint. District officials are working with the Utah Attorney General’s Office to file a formal response after being served with the complaint Monday.

According to the complaint, on Nov. 2, 2020, the student’s father, Benjamin Heaton, noticed a Weber County Sheriff’s Office truck parked in front of his house, the lawsuit states. When he found out his son was allegedly being held at school, he drove to the campus.

The father was not stopped as he walked inside, where he found his son in a hallway, the complaint states. A Weber County Sheriff’s deputy stopped the father as he left the school with his son; the father told the officer to speak with his lawyer.

The next morning, before the boy’s school bus arrived, two Weber County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicles were parked near the Heatons’ residence, the lawsuit states. The Heatons again sent their son to school on the bus, and their son was again placed in the closet soon after he arrived, the lawsuit alleges.

Inside the closet, the teen realized the door was unlocked, so he opened it and began walking home, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges the school’s principal, Scott Elliott, got into his truck and drove after the teen, ordering him not to leave school. The student said his parents wanted him to return home and kept walking, according to the complaint.

Shortly after, the parents went to the school, where Elliott told them that school administrators were following instructions from Weber School District Superintendent Jeff Stephens, state Superintendent Sydnee Dickson, the Weber-Morgan Health Department and the Utah State Board of Education, according to the complaint.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Weber School District has closely followed quarantine and isolation guidelines issued by health authorities,” Findlay said in a statement Wednesday. “This included designating alternate rooms to be used as quarantine areas. We believe the facts of this case will show the school and district followed the health guidelines that were in place at that time in order to protect students and staff against COVID-19.”

Stephens, Dickson and Elliott are listed as defendants in the lawsuit, along with Brian Cowan, executive director of the Weber-Morgan Health Department, and Weber County Sheriff Ryan Arbon. So are Wahlquist Junior High, the Weber School District and the state school board.

The Weber-Morgan Health Department declined to provide comment, citing the pending litigation.

Early Nov. 4, 2020, the father walked his son to the school bus stop and asked the driver if his son would be allowed to board. The driver said he was instructed by his supervisors not to allow the teen on the bus, the lawsuit alleges.

The father tried to get his son on the bus once again on Nov. 5, 2020, but the driver told him that his son would not be allowed to board until Nov. 13, or until he submitted a negative COVID-19 test, the complaint states.

The lawsuit argues the Heatons were “unfairly targeted” and “felt threatened” by the actions of the school and other defendants, alleging that the presence of law enforcement put them “in severe emotional distress and continues to severely distress the family.”

“The complaint speaks for itself,” the Heatons’ lawyer, former Rep. J. Morgan Philpot, said. “We’re hoping to get some justice for the family and for the kid.”

The Heatons are seeking judicial declarations that the defendants violated the student’s right to public education and due process. The lawsuit also seeks a declaration that the defendants do not have the power or authority to quarantine students and asks for compensatory damages.

As of Tuesday afternoon, none of the defendants named in the complaint had filed a formal response.