The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia this week, claiming that the Milton Hershey School for disadvantaged students broke the law by violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, writes Peter Jackson at the Associated Press.
School officials said that they rejected the 13-year-old boy, citing that they believed it was necessary to protect the health and safety of the 1,850 others enrolled in the residential institution.
"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," the school, which serves children in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade and where students live in homes with 10 to 12 others, said in a statement.
The school policy on restrictions is not limited to HIV, school spokeswoman Connie McNamara said Thursday.
Attorney Ronda Goldfein pointed out that her client is an honor-roll student and athlete who controls his HIV with medication and requires no special accommodations.
"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," Goldfein said.
A lawyer at the New York City-based Center for HIV Law and Policy said that in 2008, Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act to reaffirm that HIV is a qualified disability entitled to accommodation by public and private schools. The school is now said to be seeking a declaratory judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on the legal requirements surrounding the case.
The group's managing attorney, Beirne Roose-Snyder, described the discrimination against people with HIV as "rampant" in today's society. This is despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention having said for years that the virus is not transmitted through casual contact.
The school's statement "shows a real lack of understanding of the real threat of HIV," Roose-Snyder said.
Goldfein said that today HIV discrimination cases usually boil down to one person's word against another.
"The reality is, people don't usually admit it like this."
The school is financed by the Milton Hershey School Trust, which also holds the controlling interest in The Hershey Co., having been founded in 1909 to educate low-income and socially disadvantaged students for free.