Administrators at the Milton Hershey School, a Pennsylvania boarding school for underprivileged and at-risk youth, are standing by their decision to reject a 13-year-old student with HIV. In statement on its website, the School defends its actions:
“The School decided that it could not admit the student who uses the pseudonym Abraham Smith due to factors relating to his HIV-positive status. This decision was not made based on bias or ignorance. We considered a number of factors relating to the risks posed to the health and safety of others, and our ability to reduce those risks and maintain confidentiality in our unique residential environment.”
We know that HIV is not transmitted through casual contact and, thankfully, that universal precautions can address the concerns of transmission in a typical school environment. Our unique environment, however, also poses unique concerns. A significant concern is that HIV can be transmitted through sexual contact. We systematically encourage abstinence, and we educate our children on sexual health issues. But, as special as they are, our teenagers are the same as teens all across the country. Despite our best efforts, some of our students will engage in sexual activity with one another. Given our residential setting, when they do, they will be doing so on our watch.”
That’s got to be the first time we’ve heard a school admit its students have sex.
With help from the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, the unnamed boy—who is currently on the honor roll—and his family are suing the 102-year-old academy.
In a recent conversation with Anderson Cooper on CNN, AIDS LAW PA director Ronda Goldfein and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin makes the case that the Americans with Disabilities Act, Congress and the Justice Department have made it clear that one’s HIV status cannot deny them access to public accommodations.
If the name “Milton Hershey” rings a bell, that’s because the school is indeed named after the founder of Hershey’s Chocolate and is located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Milton and his wife had no children, and the wealthy entrepreneur sunk much of his estate into a trust fund for the school. (Ironically, the Hershey Company landed in hot water this summer for enticing foreign students to come to the U.S. and then forcing them to work in grueling factory jobs.)
So if you’re bothered by the school’s decision (and we are) consider boycotting Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Rolos, Milk Duds, et al. They’re pretty much wax and sugar anyway.