You can’t get HIV from sitting in a classroom with a HIV + student, nor handling a basketball he touched, or sharing a glass in the cafeteria. Even in 2012, “fear and hysteria” loom, says Ronda Goldfein, lawyer with Aids Law Project, for a 14 year- old HIV+ boy who was denied admission last year to The Milton Hershey School in Harrisburg, Pa. Founded by the chocolate magnate whose candy bar bears his name, Hershey School is the U.S. biggest and wealthiest co-ed boarding school for low income and socially disadvantaged children, K-12.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia in November. alleging that the school violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, which includes HIV. There is a pretrial conference set for September. The student currently attends a public school in Delaware County.
Rights of the Individual Vs. Public Safety
In a private letter sent July 12th to the defendant and his mother’s home, the school offered the ninth grader a place for fall 2012 as well as an apology. The student is considering the offer, but is also going ahead with the lawsuit.
School spokeswoman Connie McNamara told ABCNews.com last year that the boy’s HIV status was a “direct threat.” Our kids are no different than teenagers anywhere else,” she said last year. “Despite encouraging abstinence, we cannot be 100 percent certain our kids are not engaging in sexual activity. We had to balance his rights and interests with our obligation to provide for the health and safety of other students.”(who live in groups of 10 to 12 in on-campus housing.) President Anthony Colistra believes that the school’s decision regarding “Abraham Smith” (pseudonym) was appropriate.
Since When Does HIV + Hinder School Acceptance
Abraham Smith never thought that his HIV status would hinder his school acceptance. “I thought I would get into the school because of the type of student and person I am,” he told ABC News.
“As a result of the school’s decision, my life has turned into fear, anger, confusion and tears.”
New Policies at School
Heeding legal advice, Colistra said that Hershey School will no longer refuse admission to otherwise qualified students who have HIV.
The school is issuing a new equal-opportunity policy stating that the school treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants. It also is developing a mandatory training for staff and students on HIV issues.
School’s Past Sexual Issues
Perhaps, the school is ultra-sensitive about further criticism because of its former sex scandals. Last October, the school’s former House Parent, was sentenced for having child pornography. In 2010, five former students claimed they were sexually abused by a serial molester who gained access to the campus.
One wonders how many boarding schools have built-in policies that exclude HIV positive students? If the Justice Department and lawsuit hadn’t slapped the school’s hands, would misinformation about HIV trumped the emotional state of its students?