Student Diagnosed With TB at Nebraska School Where 18 Percent Are Refugees

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A student enrolled at Benson Magnet High School, one of seven high schools in the Omaha, Nebraska Public Schools system, was diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB) in November.

Two hundred thirty seven of Benson Magnet High School’s 1,273 students, or 18.6 percent, are refugees, according to Omaha Public School’s District English Language Learner/Refugee Report, 2015-16.

Officials with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the Douglas County Public Health Department are withholding whether the student was foreign-born or American-born.

A number of Omaha’s refugee students were born in countries burdened by TB; Myanmar/Burma (617), Nepal (186), Somalia (140), and Bhutan (84).

As Breitbart News reported previously, foreign-born residents of Nebraska accounted for 82 percent of all cases of TB diagnosed in the state in 2014, much higher than the national average of 66 percent:

Eighty-two percent of the active tuberculosis (TB) cases diagnosed in Nebraska in 2014, that’s 31 out of 38, were foreign-born, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Only six percent of the 1.9 million residents of the Cornhusker State are foreign-born.

2014’s 38 active TB cases represented an 80 percent increase in active TB cases in the state in one year, up from 21 in 2013.

Douglas County, which includes the city of Omaha, has a population of 550,000 according to the Census Bureau, approximately 29 percent of the state’s population of 1.9 million. The county saw a doubling in the number of reported cases of TB from 9 in 2013 to 18 in 2014, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Tuberculosis Program Report 2014.

Breitbart News spoke with the public information officer for the Douglas County Public Health Department and a media specialist with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and requested information on the country of origin–foreign-born or American-born–for the Benson Magnet High School student diagnosed with active TB in November. Neither spokesperson knew that information, or subsequently responded to Breitbart News with the information.

Neither the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services nor the Douglas County Public Health Department stated how many of the 18 cases of active TB diagnosed in Douglas County in 2014 were foreign-born when asked by Breitbart News. Neither public health agency would provide that same information for Douglas County for 2015 and year-to-date for 2016.

The only information the Douglas County Public Health Department and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services will confirm is that a Benson Magnet High School student was diagnosed with active TB in November.

“Douglas County officials said Wednesday some students and faculty will need to be tested after they discovered a confirmed case of Tuberculosis at Benson [Magnet] High School,” WOWT reported on November 30.

“By law, county health officials were notified 10 days ago after lab tests confirmed the student tested positive for TB. Health officials said they will now have to test 195 students and 12 faculty members who may have been exposed,” WOWT reported.

“We take the situation very seriously but there is no cause for alarm. Tuberculosis is a disease that generally develops over weeks to months, it is curable with medication,” Dr. Adi Pour, health director of the Douglas County Public Health Department, told WOWT at the time.

“Pour said the ill student was identified by a health care provider, who reported the illness to the health department about 10 days ago as required by law,” according to the Omaha World-Herald:

The health department is in close contact with the student to make sure that the student is taking the medication correctly and taking the necessary precautions to avoid infecting others.

Pour said the Benson case “is absolutely an isolated case” and the county does expect any other schools to be involved. About 15 cases of active tuberculosis are reported in the community each year.

According to its website, Benson Magnet High School has a “vastly diverse enrollment of approximately 1200 students.”

The Benson community of Omaha is home to a number of resettled refugees.

“In January 2011, members of the Benson community formed the Benson Area Refugee Taskforce (BART). The members came from different corners of life, but each of their lives had been touched by refugees. Many of the original BART members were already serving refugees as teachers, sponsors, or simply friends, and decided they could accomplish more together.”

According to the District English Language Learner/Refugee Report, 2015-16 for the Omaha Public Schools:

– OPS [Omaha Public Schools] K-12 students currently participating in the ESL Program includes 7,285 ELLs or 14.8 percent. ESL services have been provided to 17,638 or 35.7 percent of the K-12 student population.

– The ESL program has grown over 403 percent over the last 20 years. There was a slight decrease in students served from 2014-15 to 2015-16 ofabout 3.3 percent.

– There are 17,780 students in the district who speak 120 different languages other than English in the home.

– There are 2,219 refugee students in the district coming from 12 different countries making up 4.5 percent of the OPS K-12 student population.

– The number of refugees is up 124 percent over the last seven years with the largest growth coming from Southeast Asian countries.

– These trends will continue to impact the services needed by students in the Omaha Public Schools.

Benson Magnet High School also has the highest percentage of English Language Learner students of any of the seven high schools in the Omaha Public Schools, according to page 21 of that 2015-2016 report.

Two hundred and seven of the Benson Magnet High School’s 1,273 students, or 16.3 percent, are “current and monitored ESL (English as Second Language) students.”

Only 6.3 percent of the students attending all seven high schools in the Omaha Public Schools, or 807 out of 12,797, are “current and monitored ESL students.”

Nebraska has the highest per capita rate of refugee resettlement of any state in the country, according to the Omaha World-Herald:

Nebraska led the nation in resettling the most refugees per capita during the last year, according to newly released federal government data.

The state welcomed 1,441 refugees, or 76 per 100,000 Nebraskans, between October 2015 and September 2016, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nebraska is a strong draw for refugees because of its strong economy with accessibility to jobs in hospitality and meatpacking, said Todd Reckling, a vice president of Lutheran Family Services, the state’s largest of three placement agencies. About 90 percent of refugees come to the state to reunite with family already living in Nebraska, he said.

According to the Department of State’s interactive website, 66 percent of these refugees, or 955 out of 1,441, were resettled in Omaha, the most populous city in the state, which is located in Douglas County.

The vast majority of the refugees initially resettled in Douglas County in FY 2016, 709 out of 955, come from four high burden TB countries of origin: Burma (329), Bhutan (181), Somalia (109), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (90).

The dramatic increase in the number of refugees attending Omaha Public Schools, the doubling of the number of active TB cases diagnosed in Douglas County in 2014, the November diagnosis of a case of active TB at the high school in Omaha where 18 percent of students are refugees, and the lack of data provided by public health officials concerning the number of foreign-born cases of TB in Douglas County in 2014, 2015, and 2016 are facts that combine to raise questions about the potential of a public health risk posed by the refugee community in Omaha and Douglas County.

Nebraska public health officials, however, appear to be unwilling to shed additional light on this potential public health risk, particularly in their unwillingness to identify the country of origin of the Benson Magnet High School student diagnosed with active TB in November.

“Since it is a single student the Nebraska public health officials are right in not providing any personally identifying information,” an attorney familiar with the federal refugee resettlement program tells Breitbart News.

“It’s more along the lines of HIPAA and confidentiality obligations of school districts with information that is considered personally identifiable which it would be since providing the country of origin for one sick student would probably identify that student,” the attorney says.

HIPAA is short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which contains a privacy rule that “establishes national standards to protect individuals medical records and other person information.”

Breitbart News asked the attorney why revealing whether the student diagnosed with active TB at Benson Magnet High School in November was foreign-born or American-born “would probably identify that student” when 237 of the school’s 1,273 students are foreign-born refugees.

“This situation starts to sound like the house that Jack built,” the attorney says.

” You have a specific case of active TB discovered in a student in a school with a high percentage of refugees coming from countries of high prevalence of TB in a county with high resettlement numbers,” the attorney notes.

“I think there’s a reasonable probability that this student is a refugee.  You have discovered any number of cases of active TB in the refugee population across a number of states, so the question about this student in this particular context, is a reasonable one to ask,” the attorney says.

“Now the health department of the county is a different matter. If you ask the question about the number of foreign-born TB cases over the past twelve months, that’s something they should answer,” the attorney adds.

Breitbart News contacted a spokesperson for the Omaha Public Schools for comment, but has not received a response.


A spokesperson for the Douglas County Public Health Department provided this statement to Breitbart News:

Douglas County is no different from Nebraska or the rest of the U.S. where most TB cases occur in persons who are foreign born.  In Douglas County, an average of 89% of the cases reported from 2014-2016 (current) have been in foreign-born individuals.

In 2014 we had 18 total cases [of TB], in 2015 there were 16 total cases, in 2016 we have had 11 total cases to date.

All told, 45 cases of active TB have been diagnosed in Douglas County between January 1, 2014 and December 8, 2016. Eighty-nine percent of these cases, or 40 out of 45, were foreign-born.

In 2015, 66 percent of all cases of TB diagnosed in the United States were foreign-born.

Breitbart News asked the Douglas County Public Health Department to explain why the incidence of foreign-born cases of TB is significantly higher in Douglas County than in the rest of the country.

“We really have no idea, but in a relatively small number of cases such as this, one or two individuals can make an enormous percentage difference,” a spokesperson for the Douglas County Public Health Department tells Breitbart News.


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