December 1, 2011

School rejects HIV-positive student

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia-area teenager claims in a discrimination lawsuit that a private boarding school connected with the Hershey chocolate company violated federal anti-discrimination laws by denying him admission because he is HIV-positive.

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania filed the lawsuit on behalf of the unidentified boy in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Wednesday, claiming the Milton Hershey School for disadvantaged students violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Attorney Ronda Goldfein says her 13-year-old client 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.

School officials said the boy was denied admission to protect the 1,850 others enrolled in the residential institution, which serves children in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade and where students live in homes with 10 to 12 others.

"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 said in a statement Wednesday.

School officials said they were preparing seek a declaratory judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on legal issues surrounding the case when the AIDS Law Project "took the adversarial action of filing a lawsuit."

Goldfein said Thursday she was not aware that the school was contemplating such a court filing, but said action is needed because one-third of the school year is already over.

"The sooner we can get this matter resolved and get my student into an appropriate academic setting the better," she said.

Founded in 1909 by chocolate maker Milton Hershey, the school educates low-income and socially disadvantaged students for free. It is financed by the Milton Hershey School Trust, which also holds the controlling interest in The Hershey Co.


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