BRONX — A group of about 15 schoolchildren attacked two brothers from Senegal in a Tremont elementary school Friday, calling the boys "Ebola" as they kicked and punched them, the victims' father said.
The students — eighth-grader Pape Drame, 13, and sixth-grader Amadou Drame, 11 — were born in the United States and returned here from Senegal about a month ago to be with their father Ousmane Drame.
Students quickly began taunting the boys with the name “Ebola” after they started attending I.S. 318 a few weeks ago, according to their father.
“If they go to play in the gym, the kids tell them ‘Don’t touch the ball. If you touch the ball we will all get Ebola,’” Ousmane said.
On Oct. 24, a group of Amadou’s classmates started kicking and punching him outside during lunch, and when Pape came to his younger brother's aid, the kids started attacking him as well.
“It’s not a fight,” said Ousmane, who has lived in this country for 25 years. “They assaulted these boys.”
"We will not tolerate intimidation or bullying of our students, especially in this moment when New Yorkers need to come together,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.
“We are investigating this incident and we take this matter very seriously. DOE School Safety staff members are on site today to mediate this incident and ensure the safety and support of these students, school staff and their families."
School administrators and police met with the family on Monday, the DOE said.
A school safety officer noticed what was happening to the boys after about 15 minutes, according to Charles Cooper, chairman of the African Advisory Council. However, he said the officer only realized that Pape was in trouble and did not notice that Amadou was being beaten as well.
Ousmane quickly came to pick up his bruised and bleeding sons to take them to the doctor, but the bruising and swelling from the beating was so bad that the doctor recommended the boys be taken to the hospital instead, the father told Cooper.
The principal of I.S. 318 did not respond to a request for comment.
The brothers are not the only African children targeted, said Sokhna Seye, whose daughter attends DREAM Charter School in Harlem.
Seye, who is from Senegal, said at a press conference that her 9-year-old daughter was bullied about Ebola last week as well.
“When she came home, she told me, ‘Mommy … one of the students said that I have Ebola. And Mommy, do I have Ebola?’” she said. “And I told her no, you don’t have Ebola.”
Eve Colavito, head of DREAM Charter School, stressed that the institution did not tolerate bullying.
"We learned about the incident late last week. As soon as we did, school counselors contacted the families involved," she said in a statement.
"We communicated that the comment made from one student to another was wholly unacceptable and inconsistent with our school's values. We also began a mediation process between the students involved so that this does not happen again."
Although Senegal was one of multiple West African countries that had reported cases of the Ebola virus, the World Health Organization officially declared the country free of the virus transmission on Oct. 17.
Cooper called for some type of sensitivity training at I.S. 318 around the Ebola virus to help improve the situation surrounding Pape and Amadou.
"They were very happy and ready to learn, and this situation that happened has dampened their learning prospects," Cooper said. "I know one of the children has said they wanted to go back because this not what they expected."