Friday, December 02, 2011

Milton Hershey rejects HIV-positive Student: Official Statement & Reaction

In an almost incomprehensible burst of ignorance, prejudice, and chutzpah, the highly-vaunted Milton Hershey School (a private, tuition-free boarding school), issued a statement coinciding with World AIDs Day explaining their refusal to admit a student due to his HIV positive status.

What follows is the official statement by the school (in italics), with my commentary following in boldface type.

HERSHEY, Pa., Dec. 1, 2011 -- /PRNewswire/ -- The following statement was issued today by Connie McNamara, Vice President, Communications at Milton Hershey School:

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.


Nonsense. There ARE NO significant health or safety concerns. HIV is not transmitted by saliva, sneezing, sweat or tears; it is not transmitted by sharing toilets or bathrooms, drinking glasses, laundry facilities, towels, beds, dorm rooms, or eating utensils. In addition, the student in question is on antiretroviral medications, reducing the ability to transmit the virus, even in the most conducive of circumstances through specific kinds of sexual acts or blood interaction, to a fraction of 1%. It is not surprising that a Hershey spokeswoman, appearing on Anderson Cooper 360 tonight, was unable to name the doctor or medical personnel that advised the school of any such “concern.”

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…

There are no “complex legal issues.” Persons with HIV are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, all people, including those with disabilities, are given equal opportunity to use or enjoy a public accommodation’s goods, services, and facilities. Public accommodations include restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, dentists’ offices, hospitals, retail stores, health clubs, museums, libraries, private schools, and day care centers.

… Unfortunately, attorneys for the young man took the adversarial action of filing a lawsuit against the School.

The first resort of bullies when victims push back is to call the victims names; they attempt to characterize those who insist on their rights as crybabies, divisive or ‘adversarial.’ The young man’s legal suit is not out of place or adversarial; the fact is, Milton Hershey has no basis in medicine or law for denying the student admission, and the students suit against the School is an entirely appropriate avenue for redress. Hershey’s statement is the standard “blame-the victim” defense.

The decision to deny enrollment was a challenging one for us to make. Like all our enrollment decisions, we need to balance our desire to serve the needs of an individual child seeking admission with our obligation to protect the health and safety of all 1,850 children already in our care…

Again, the school takes the odd position that their school is somehow ‘unique,’ a phrase used later in this press release and used multiple times in media interviews. The ADA covers private schools; there is nothing about Hershey that would exempt them. There are hundreds of boarding schools in the United States, a number of which house over 1,000 students. There are schools designated as Military Academies, Therapeutic Schools, schools for Students in Recovery, Experiential, Learning Disabled, Religious, Fine-Arts based, Math & Science-based, and Performing Arts based. In spite of Hershey’s assertions, their duty to care for their residential students is no different than any other of these schools…and all are covered by the ADA.

Attorneys for this young man and his mother have suggested that this case is comparable to the Ryan White case. But this case is actually nothing like the Ryan White case.

Actually, it is precisely like the Ryan White case, which, ironically, we referenced in a blogpost yesterday [see below]. This is a decision to exclude a student based on ignorance of medicine and in violation of federal statute. It is based on the unreasonable fear & loathing of HIV, and nothing more.

Milton Hershey School is not a day school, where students go home to their family at the end of the day. Instead, this is a unique home-like environment, a pre-K -12 residential school where children live in homes with 10-12 other students on our campus 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Again, Hershey is by no means unique in this, as hundreds of boarding schools do likewise. Hershey is making the entirely illogical arguement that students with HIV should not live at their school because it is "home-like," "residential," and where "children live," (their words)...but should instead live at home - which is the ultimate 'residential setting.'

In order to protect our children in this unique environment, we cannot accommodate the needs of students …

Yes, Milton Hershey, you can, and you must. You must accommodate the daily medical needs of students with insulin-dependent Diabetes. Epilepsy. Asthmatics. It is part of running a boarding school. If you can not ensure that a resident takes a pill, you need to reconsider your ability to operate a boarding school.

…with chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others.

This is not an argument against admitting a student; this is evidence of your own medical ignorance. No health or safety threat is present.

The reason is simple. We are serving children, and no child can be assumed to always make responsible decisions that protect the well being of others.

This is a well-crafted innuendo concerning the prospective students sexual activities, implying that the student might attempt sexual activity with another student. Well guess what, Milton Hershey…if that is your concern, you have a much bigger problem than this one student: EVERY one of your hormone-exploding students might be tempted to engage in sexual relations with other students, and pass along not only HIV, but syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, genital warts, scabies, hepatitis, and HPV. Your reasoning suggests that you should reject ALL students who might be tempted to engage in sexual activity; In that case, you might want to consider closing down entirely, because all teenage students present that risk.

That is why, after careful review and analysis, we determined we could not put our children at risk.

No, this was not after “careful review and analysis.” There is no analysis of the medical or legal issues; there is only an unwise, illegal, and cruel response based on hysteria that tarnishes the reputation of a once-respected institution.



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2 comments:

e.a.f. said...

Who sends a Kindergarden kid to boarding school? Or for that matter a kid in grade one. Very weird.

Then I guess if they object to a kid with HIV going to the school it is wierder yet.

Never did understand Americans.
Like where do these people get their ideas. O.K. we had some in Burnaby, B.C. who didn't want anti homophobic material taught in public school but that went the way of the doddo bird. Sense prevailed.

Don't American's have a consitution which prohibits this type of discrimination, oh, ya, thats the Canadian constituion which says you can't discriminate on the basis of a disability.
Good luck with the fight.

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