Milton S. Hershey School Stands Behind Decision To Reject HIV-positive Applicant
The Milton S. Hershey School, a private philanthropic pre-K through 12 boarding school located in Hershey, PA, is preparing to defend its decision, now the subject of a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the AIDS Law Project in Philadelphia, to refuse admission to a 13-year-old because he is HIV-positive.
“I want to be very clear about this. We made this decision because we believed it’s the right one,” said Connie McNamara, school spokeswoman, in remarks recorded by the Harrisburg Patriot-News. “It’s a difficult decision.”
The principal danger, school officials say, is the possibility of sexual relations between the infected student and a classmate.
“If a student comes to us with an active, chronic communicable disease that we believe under the ADA (the American Disabilities Act) laws rises to the level that it is a direct threat to the health and safety of the students — if that disease rises to that level, then we will not admit that student,” McNamara added.
Representing Milton Hershey will be lawyers from the Washington D.C. firm of Saul Ewing.
“We believe that this is a case of first impression and presents a novel issue on how the ADA applies in this unique setting,” Saul Ewing attorney Robert Duston told the Patriot-News. He was unaware, he said, of any decision “that has addressed the risks of consensual sexual activity between minors in a residential elementary and secondary school setting such as the Milton Hershey School.”
Several HIV and AIDS attorneys, however, believe the matter to be fairly straightforward.
“Most people in the field believe this question has been asked and answered,” said Bill McColl of AIDS United in Washington D.C.
“Transmission is rare. ... It’s not like you ‘just get’ HIV,” McColl said. “I suspect this is a combination of fear of a lawsuit and not knowing the facts on HIV.”