A Pennsylvania private boarding school is being hit with a lawsuit for failing to admit an HIV-positive teenager. The school says it wanted to protect other students. But the AIDS Law Project charges it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A private boarding school founded by the Hershey chocolate company, being sued by the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, says it was simply trying to protect its other students when it refused admission to a Philadelphia-area teenager who is HIV-positive.
CBS News reports that the AIDS Law Project suit claims that the Milton Hershey School for disadvantaged students violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in refusing admittance to the unidentified student.
Milton Hershey school officials admit that they denied admission to the 13-year old boy because they believed it was necessary to protect the health and safety of the 1,850 other students enrolled in the residential institution. The school serves children in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade and houses them with 10 to 12 other students to a room. A school statement was issued Wednesday.
"In order to protect our children in this unique environment, we cannot accommodate the needs of students with chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others."
But the New York Daily News reports that the child's attorney, Ronda Goldfein says her client doesn't require any special accommodations. She explains that he is an honor-roll student and an athlete who manages his HIV with medication that does not affect any school's schedule.
"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 HIV and AIDS."
The Milton Hershey school was founded in 1909 by the chocolate company to educate low-income and socially disadvantages children for free. It is financed by the Milton Hershey School Trust, which holds the controlling interest in The Hershey Co.
School officials said they were about to seek a declaratory judgement from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on the legal issues of this case when the AIDS Law Project stepped in. The officials say they were caught off-guard by the that.
They "took the adversarial action of filing a lawsuit."
But lawyer Goldfein says quick action is needed because one-third of the school year is already over.
"The sooner we can get this matter resolved and get my student into an appropriate academic setting, the better."
In 2008, Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2008 reaffirming that HIV is a qualified disability entitled to accommodation by public and private schools. Beirne Roose-Snyder, managing attorney for the Center for HIV Law and Policy in New York, says discrimination against people with HIV remains "rampant," even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said for years that the virus is not transmitted through casual contact. Fewer cases are going to trial, she said. Roose-Snyder says the school's statement
"shows a real lack of understanding of the real threat of HIV".