“In order to protect our children in this unique environment,” said the Milton Hershey School in December after a lawsuit was filed, “we cannot accommodate the needs of students with chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others.” The private Pennsylvania boarding school had denied admission to a child known by the pseudonym Abraham Smith on the sole basis that he is HIV-positive.
Arguing that the school was in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the child’s mother filed suit in federal court with the assistance of the Philadelphia-based AIDS Law Project. ”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,” said Smith’s attorney Ronda Goldfein.
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that it had reached a settlement with Milton Hershey School:
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. T he school must also pay a $15,000 civil penalty to the United States.
“Children should not be denied educational opportunities simply because they have HIV,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This settlement sends a clear message that unlawful discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS will not be tolerated.”
“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,” said Zane David Memeger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The ADA requires public accommodations, including private schools such as the Milton Hershey School, to provide individuals with disabilities, including people with HIV, equal access to goods, services, privileges, accommodations, facilities, advantages and accommodations.
In August, before the settlement, the school reversed its policy and had offered Smith admission. Not surprisingly, Smith’s mother decided to seek other educational opportunities for her son.