Victory for HIV-Positive Teenager As Pennsylvania Boarding School Reverses Its Decision to Ban Him

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A HIV-positive 9th-grader from the Philadelphia area is celebrating victory against a private boarding school after it reversed its decision to ban him because of his HIV status.

A lawyer for the boy, who uses the pseudonym Abraham Smith, said he was considering the Milton Hershey School‘s offer of admission.

Mr Smith is an honour roll student who controls his HIV with medication.

Climb-down: Milton Hershey School has reversed its policy and offered the teenager a place

Climb-down: Milton Hershey School has reversed its policy and offered the teenager a place

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania had filed a lawsuit against the school on the boy’s behalf, saying its policies violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The school, which is supported by the Hershey chocolate company, has now announced a new policy under which HIV-positive applicants will be treated the same as others.

School president Dr Anthony Colistra issued a statement defending the school’s previous decisions regarding the teenager.

He said the admissions offer, and an apology, were issued to him last month.

Apology: The school's president Dr Anthony Colistra said it now hoped to welcome the teenager

Apology: The school’s president Dr Anthony Colistra said it now hoped to welcome the teenager

‘Although we believed that our decisions regarding Abraham Smith’s application were appropriate, we acknowledge that the application of federal law to our unique residential setting was a novel and difficult issue,’ Dr Colistra said.

‘The U.S. Department of Justice recently advised us that it disagrees with how we evaluated the risks and applied the law. We have decided to accept this guidance.’

Dr Colistra added: ‘I publicly extend a heartfelt apology to [Abraham Smith] and to his family for the impact of our initial decision, as I did privately in my July 12 letter. We hope to welcome this young man to our school family in the near future.

‘The Milton Hershey School staff are among the most loving and caring people anywhere. I have witnessed the great work they do providing not only an education but nurturing to our students. As they always do, our staff will enthusiastically welcome all students, and continue to transform their lives.’

The boy’s lawyer, Ronda Goldfein, said recent developments did not end the lawsuit, and that her client was still assessing the school’s climb-down.

‘We’re certainly delighted that the school understands their obligations under the law and intends to follow them,’ Ms Goldfein said. ‘This case is not settled. This is one very important piece of it.’

The lawsuit was filed late last year in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, and a judge last week scheduled a pre-trial conference for September.

‘We couldn’t be happier that they’re doing the right thing, but if you turn a blind eye to a law, you’re responsible for the harm caused while you were turning that blind eye,’ Ms Goldfein said.

Protests: The decision to ban the pupil sparked demonstrations from campaigners including these students from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Protests: The decision to ban the pupil sparked demonstrations from campaigners including these students from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Dr Colistra said the private boarding school is developing training on HIV-related issues for its employees and students.

In Washington, Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre welcomed the school’s decision and noted that federal law protects people with HIV from discrimination.

Milton Hershey School officials previously said the boy was denied admission in February 2011 because a chronic communicable disease would pose a threat to the health and safety of the students.

Their stance sparked a wave of protests from AIDS advocates in Hershey earlier this year.

The school for lower income and socially disadvantaged students is financed by a trust that holds the controlling interest in chocolate manufacturing giant The Hershey Co.

heroryanwhiteIt is shocking that we are still facing similar stores of prejudice and discrimination relating to HIV infection.  27 years after hero Ryan Whitewas banned from school and over 3 decades of campaigning establishments STILL don’t get the message.  A victory for Abraham Smith indeed, but a blow to the efforts of HIV positive people and organisations such as LASS who work tirelessly to combat stigma.

During the course of his short young life Ryan White changed the face of HIV and AIDS as we knew it, forever. He is, to this day, an inspiration and hero for many people living with HIV/AIDS. This is his story.

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2 responses to “Victory for HIV-Positive Teenager As Pennsylvania Boarding School Reverses Its Decision to Ban Him

  1. Pingback: Please Don’t Infect Me, I’m Sorry… | LASS

  2. Pingback: To Be or Not to be HIV-positive « Flickr Comments