School who refused HIV teen a place forced to pay out

School in US chocolate town of Hershey pay damages to 14-year-old with HIV who they said was ‘direct threat’ to other students

School who refused HIV teen a place forced to pay out
14 September 2012

A school in Pennsylvania has paid $700,000 (€) in damages after they refused admission to a 14-year-old boy because he is HIV-positive.

A federal lawsuit alleged Milton Hershey School, Hershey, had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it denied admission to the student in last year.

The student, who is only identified by the pseudonym Abraham Smith, filed the suit along with his mother on 30 November 2011, in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The Department of Justice said: ‘Under the settlement agreement, the school is required to pay $700,000 to Smith and his mother, adopt and enforce a policy prohibiting discrimination and requiring equal opportunity for students with disabilities, including those with HIV, in the school’s programs and services, and to provide training to staff and administrators on the requirements of the ADA.

‘The school must also pay a $15,000 (€) civil penalty to the United States.’

Zane David Memeger, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said: ‘This is a very significant case, affirming the rights of persons with HIV, and we applaud the school for working so cooperatively to amend its position on this matter.’

The ADA requires that public accommodations, including private schools, like the Milton Hershey School, to provide individuals with disabilities, including those with HIV, equal access to facilities, services, privileges, accommodation, advantages and goods.

‘Abraham’, 14, who is now a ninth-grader had been denied admission last year to the eighth-grade class at the Milton Hershey School, founded in 1909 by the Hershey chocolate magnate and his wife.

The school administrators had claimed the honor roll student presented a ‘direct threat’ to the health and safety of other students.

According to a press release announcing the settlement: ‘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.’

In addition to the financial settlement the school is also required to conduct HIV training for its staff and students.

Anthony J Colistra, the school’s president, finally publicly apologized to ‘Abraham’ and his mother on 6 August and offered to reconsider his application.

He also announced ‘a new equal opportunity policy clearly stating that the School treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants.’

And he added the school was ‘developing and providing mandatory training for staff and students on HIV issues’.

The settlement concludes the federal HIV discrimination lawsuit brought against the school by the non-profit AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.

Ronda B Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania said: ‘This case renewed a nationwide discussion about whether people with HIV represent a risk to others in casual settings.

‘The question has once again been definitively answered: They do not.’

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania also reported ‘Abraham’ and his mother have decided that he shall now not attend the school but instead plan to use the settlement to cover other educational expenses.

On hearing of the settlement ‘Abraham’ said: ‘I am very glad this is over.

‘It should have never been an issue in the first place. I will never recoup my eighth-grade year in school. Though I had a good one academically, I was too engulfed with this… to enjoy the fun of going to high school. Now it’s time for me to start healing internally and my mother said that will come in time also.’

The Department of Justice provides a webpage dedicated to information about the ADA and HIV here.

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