Pennsylvania school denies admission to thirteen-year old with HIV

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Can't think of a way to acknowledge World AIDS Day (which is today)? How about reading this terrible story about a Pennsylvania school that denied a thirteen-year-old boy admission because he's HIV positive! The Milton Hershey School, a boarding school that aims to educate "children in social and financial need," is being sued by the mother of a young boy who was explicitly rejected for his HIV status out of, the school claims, concern for the safety of its other students. Given that people with HIV are included in the American Disabilities Act, you might think they're not allowed to do that!

In fact, you wouldn't be alone, because not only does the kid, his mother, their lawyer, and the AIDS Law Project think so — even the school itself was wondering. Which is why they petitioned to have the court review their decision… after it had already been made. (Points for trying, Milton Hershey, but as my high-school chemistry teacher used to say, I can't believe you couldn't see how this would blow up in your face.) If only the mother would just chill out, as a statement from the school more or less reads:

Today, Milton Hershey School had planned to file a request in federal court asking the court to review our decision to deny enrollment to a child who is HIV positive because of concerns for the health and safety of our current students.

We had been in discussions with the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, which is representing this 13-year-old boy. Recognizing the complex legal issues, the School was preparing to ask the court to weigh in on this matter. Unfortunately, attorneys for the young man took the adversarial action of filing a lawsuit against the School.

Ah yes, the old "I was definitely just going to do that right now when you asked!" excuse. (Another thing that brings me back to high-school chemistry.) The school's not wrong on one part — it is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of its students. But I'm not exactly sure what they think will happen here: that the boy, who's lived with HIV for years and has personal knowledge of the ramifications of this disease, is going to go around having unprotected sex with his classmates? That recess time is "share your needles" time in Hershey, PA? Impromptu cafeteria blood transfusion? (And, for the record, students live in houses of ten to twelve, each with two adults. Kids will be kids, but a sexy boarding school romp this ain't.)

A private school does get to pick and choose its students, yes. But just because it's private doesn't mean it gets to flout the law. There are laws against discrimination in this country for a reason. Congrats, Milton Hershey: you are that reason.