This Thursday, countries across the globe acknowledged World AIDS Day, seeking to educate people about what the disease is, how it affects the lives of thousands, and what can be done to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, while the world re-dedicated to helping those affected by the virus,one American family challenged the legality of Milton Hershey School’s blatant discrimination against their HIV-positive child. The school has denied the young boy’s application for admittance due to his physical status as HIV-positive.
The Milton Hershey School is a cost-free boarding school which requires students to come from a low-income family, be between four and fifteen years old, be an American citizen, and be free of major emotional or behavioral problems. This student, who remains anonymous, meets every criterion. “He just also happens to have HIV which the school has determined is a ‘documented need’ it cannot meet,” said the AIDS Law Project Executive Director Ronda B. Goldfein, who is leading the student’s legal case.
Connie McNamara, a spokesman for the school, detailed the thoughts behind their decision: “The reason is simple. We are serving children, and no child can be assumed to always make responsible decisions that protect the wellbeing of others…We have to provide the proper protection for the health and safety of the students already on campus, and we believe we have made the right decision under the law.”
Goldfein plans to cite the Ryan White Care Act of 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other anti-discrimination laws the school has allegedly broken in order to defend the student’s right to admittance. The act is named after Ryan White, a middle school student in the 1990s who was expelled from school because he was HIV-positive. The Ryan White Care Act was recently reauthorized by President Obama to end the ban prohibiting HIV-positive people from entering America; the law also provides funding for HIV medical clinics through the Ryan White Program. In honor of World AIDS Day President Obama announcedthat his administration is “committing an additional $15 million for the Ryan White Program…we want to keep those doors open so they can keep saving lives.” See a video of his speech here.
The school’s fear of this student spreading the virus is largely unsupported by the Center for Disease Control which states that the main avenues for transmission are sexual activity and sharing needles—“HIV is not transmitted by day-to-day contact in the workplace, schools, or social settings…HIV is not an airborne or food-borne virus, and it does not live long outside the body.” It is also not possible to become infected from “a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a door knob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets.”
“Like Ryan White, this young man is a motivated, intelligent kid who poses no health risk to other students, but is being denied an educational opportunity because of ignorance and fear about his HIV and AIDS,” Goldfein said. Despite these scientific facts and existing federal non-discrimination legislation, the school has no intention of reversing their decision.
Take Action: Visit change.org and sign the petitioned titled “Milton Hershey School: Stop Discriminating Against an HIV-Positive 13-Year-Old.” As of 3:33 PM (EST) the petition already has 2,097 supporters! Add your voice and stand up for the rights our children. No child should be discriminated against and denied schooling because of their health status.