While reviewing records over the summer, Pea Ridge School District officials found an evaluation concerning one of the children that stated that the mother and one sister were both HIV-positive. School administrators later met and contacted the foster parents of the children and informed them that the children would not be allowed to return to school until documentation was provided showing an HIV-negative status.
Superintendent Rick Neal has refused to respond to questions or offer a statement, saying that he could “neither confirm nor deny the story.” However, parents within the school district received a letter from Pea Ridge School District citing Arkansas School Boards Association policy 4.34 as reason for their decision. Policy 4.34 is the recently updated policy concerning communicable diseases and parasites, which makes no mention of HIV because it is not a communicable disease. The same letter sent to parents also states that the school board has consulted with their lawyer as well as a private law firm in regards to their decision.
HIV status is confidential. Another concern is how exactly is it that these school officials “found” the information concerning the mother and sister of these children, and why did they find it necessary to divulge possible health information to the school district? According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the school district officials had no authority or concern to alert the public of health matters of these students, or their family, even in the most general statements.
In a statement by Tom Masseau, Executive Director of Disability Rights Center of Arkansas:
“The actions taken by the Superintendent of Pea Ridge School District are appalling and is reminiscent of times past and the case of Ryan White. The fact that the foster families have to provide documentation that the children are HIV negative before entering the school is unlawful and immoral. Further, the fact the school’s attorney authorized this unlawful act is at best appalling. It stigmatizes individuals with disabilities or their ‘perceived’ disabilities as there is no indication these individuals have HIV. There is only an unlawful fear that they do.”
Not only is it currently illegal to force any individual to take an HIV test, it is also illegal to ban children from schools based on HIV status — perceived or otherwise. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a child cannot be restricted from school for testing HIV-positive.
According to the ADA website:
Does the ADA also prohibit State and local governments from discriminating against persons with HIV or AIDS?
Yes. The ADA applies to all State and local governments, their departments and agencies, and any other instrumentalities or special purpose districts of State or local governments. For example:
- A public school system may not prohibit a child with HIV or AIDS from attending elementary school.
- A county hospital may not refuse to treat persons with HIV or AIDS.
- A local police station must make sure that TTY users, including persons with HIV or AIDS, can call 911 and other emergency phone numbers directly, without having to go through a relay system.
- A city emergency medical technician may not refuse to treat or transport a person with HIV or AIDS.
- A State-owned nursing home may not refuse to accept patients with HIV or AIDS.
- A county recreation center may not refuse admission to a summer camp program to a child whose brother has AIDS.
- A paratransit system may not refuse to transport an eligible rider to an appointment at a medical clinic because that clinic specializes in treatment of HIV and AIDS.
- A high school student does volunteer work at a local AIDS service organization and students at her school, thinking that she has HIV, harass her. Feeling threatened, she reports the harassment to a teacher. The harassment rises to a level where it denies or limits her ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s education program. The school must take prompt and effective action to address the harassment.
State and local governments must also reasonably modify their policies, practices, and procedures, must provide auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication, and must make programs, services, and activities accessible.
A hemophiliac that became infected with HIV from a blood treatment, Ryan White, 13, was banned from attending school June 30, 1985. In a time when so little was known about HIV or AIDS, a petition signed by 117 parents and 50 teachers forced the school board to eventually concede to pressure and ban White from attending school. After filing a lawsuit against the school, he faced persecution, harassment, and death threats all for the sake of wanting an education. When the law finally ruled that Ryan White had a right to return to school, parents withdrew their children from the school and started an alternative school.
It’s absolutely grotesque that 28 years later, an adult wants to play the “cootie game” in an effort to ban children from school. Outraged parents in the public have taken to social media and addressed their disgust with the school district on the Pea Ridge School District Facebook page.
Photo courtesy 5NEWS Online