Milton Hershey School Defends Rejecting 13-Year-Old With HIV

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.

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  • jay

    Whos to say this boy planned on engaging in sexual activity?
    Who can say if some of their students, have the virus laying dormant in their body?
    This is discrimination, no way around it. Since they like chocolate so damn much,
    perhaps the administrators should be forced to have gigantic chocolate penises shoved up
    their butts!

  • Steve

    Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, as amended, prohibits disability-based discrimination in employment, state and municipal services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. ADA specifically includes HIV+ status as a disability, and lists schools and colleges as public accommodations. The penalties for noncompliance are very significant, and there is lots of case law dealing specifically with HIV+ individuals.

    The school will settle, just after their lawyer tells them how many commas are in the number behind the dollar sign if they don’t.

  • kylew

    I can see the school’s point. It’s not prejudice – it’s prudent precautions. After all, there are a host of special circumstances here that increase the risk to the other students. Nevertheless, you could apply their reasononing to any number of conditions, including, presumably, the kind of rough and ready, quick to violence behaviour that is often associated with underprivileged kids.

    The equally valid case that can be made, is if this boy is such a risk of transmitting HIV, surely it’s better that he should be in an environment where he is tightly supervised and his opportunity for sex is minimised. But of course that is not the school’s concern.

    Perhaps they should have used their special position to provide personal HIV responsibility education to him, rather than ostracising him? I feel that an opportunity has been lost, and it’s more likely to foster resentment in the boy than responsibility.

  • tookietookie

    So, if a student gets another student preggers then it happened on the school’s “watch”, what do they pay child support to the mother or something? I’d prefer they not be so into their students’ personal business. Their reasoning was simply pretext to discriminate.

  • v

    Well, one assumes that should any student happen to become infected with HIV, that student would summarily be expelled as well. Are all students tested before admission, and periodically retested? Way to go Herhey school, way to model inclusiveness and acceptance to your “at risk” students. Not to mention abrogating the law.

  • John

    Its a PRIVATE school, they can do whatever they want. Do not let this one decision of theirs detract from the fact that theyve enriched THOUSANDS of children for over one hundred years. This is NOT Chik Fil, this is NOT a company that openly discriminates…although they could have gone a different route with this, they’re a GOOD school.

  • kylew

    @tookietookie: The duty of care for a boarding school is far greater than that of a day school, and arguably, higher than that of a parent. Regardless of what you’re prefer, boarding schools HAVE to be into their students’ business, just as any responsible parent would be. It’s all very well taking a hands-off approach to their private lives, but the school is answerable for the kids both in and out of the classroom.

    I’m happy that they have the maturity to recognise that in that enclosed, mixed sex environment, they CANNOT stop the kids having sex, and thus they have a zero risk approach to this life and death illness.

    Supposing it was tuberculosis or ebola – would you be arguing for the rights of the student to mix over the rights of the other students not to catch a fatal illness? Of course not.

    The trouble is, someone only only has to say “gay” and 50 homosexuals stand up and start crying unfair.

  • tbroova

    @kylew Tuberculosis is spread through the air and Ebola is spread through contact of the skin. So you aren’t really comparing apples to apples here. And through the entire article and all of the comments you are the first one to mention the word “gay”.

  • chuck

    I guess the Hershey School will next ban students in wheelchairs! I believe that there are steps inside and around the school…who knows when a student will try to traverse said steps. Also ban blind students they might bump into someone else and knock them down or walk into a door or wall. Ban dyslexic students, they may enter a chemistry lab while thinking they are entering a history class. Ban students from eating chocolates…bad for your cholesterol and and weight problems!

  • kylew

    @tbroova: It’s on a site called queerty, and the disease is HIV. I think there’s an implicit connection. I wasn’t really talking about the transmission method, but diseases with similar levels of potential lethality. Even if all the students lived in hermetically sealed bubbles, i would still not expect the school to accept a student with ebola.

  • Aki


    So HIV+ people should never enter college ? Because it’s an over night facility and the chance of them having sex is even greater.

    The boy has been positive his entire life , he probably knows how not to transmit the virus

  • kylew

    @Aki: “So HIV+ people should never enter college ?”

    No, because at college the students are old enough to take legal responsibility for their own sexual behaviour, and the consequences of unsafe sex.

    Just because the boy understands the mechanics of transmission does not mean he has the restraint to practice that when his hormones are driving him. Africa is groaning under the weight of HIV and AIDS victims who know how to be safe, but don’t practice it.

  • Nikki

    @John: THANK YOU! It’s a private institution and, to be blunt, can be as discriminatory as it wants. Yes, it’s a shame that this boy won’t have the same opportunities as others because of his HIV status, but I’m (slightly) on the school’s side on this one. They openly admit that they don’t have the resources to protect this young man or the other children in their care, and rather than accept him to their school and screw up further down the line, they denied him acceptance outright.

  • nolan

    Well, John, you’re partially right. They ARE a “private school,” but they can NOT “do whatever they want,” especially if they receive a single penny of public money for their meals program, tax incentives or credits, etc. Calling yourself “private” doesn’t give you free reign to violate the law.

    I’m still trying to figure out how the kid’s presence would be a danger to other students. Do they have “bloodletting” as part of their curriculum or something?

    I’d have thought this would have been settled with Ryan White DECADES ago.

  • Michael

    @John: Yes, John, but you also have to realize that they serve a public need… To Be considered for enrollment, the child must… Come from a low income, limited resources, and social need. Be free of serious emotional and behavioral problems that disrupt life in the classroom or the home.Check out their admissions criteria. ”


    How many private schools do you know of that DON’T CHARGE??? It’s all paid by the Milton Hershey Trust Fund… It’s not a Prep school, nor one of those schools that uppity rich New Yorkers send their disobedient pregnant teenage daughters to…


    interpret it for yourself :)

  • John

    The Washington Post wrote an extensive spread about the Hershey School within the past 18 months. I dont live much more then an hour from the school but I had never heard of it. If you read the article that I did, you might end up totally falling in love with them. The article says that they don’t just accept poor kids, they accept poor kids that have high grades and high potential…in other words, just intelligent, bright kids that might otherwise fall into gangs, pregnancy, etc. This is TRULY a REMARKABLE place and the article even said that when its time for a summer/winter break, the kids do not want to leave the campus and they have the option to stay. Its a private school and the kids dont pay a dime, I praise this school for the work they’ve done and I will defend them. As a gay man, I’d even go as far to say that I’d even volunteer time to them. Imagine what we could accomplish if we gays used our anger and fury over something really worthwhile.

  • Jason

    @kylew: This isn’t a gay issue. It’s an HIV+ issue, so get off the cross, Mary, Jesus needs the wood. No one’s making this a gay issue (I for one am quite comfortable with the ban on gay men donating blood).

    And quit equating the HIV virus with Ebola and tubercolosis, both of which are highly contagious. While the transmission of Ebola is also from close contact with body fluids, the concentration of virus in secretions such as sweat, tears, etc. is incredibly high. So don’t equate apples with oranges, especially if you’re clueless about the science.

  • bagooka

    I guess their “kisses” brand is for straight kids only. badumtush.

  • kylew

    @Jason: Jason, YOU are the one reading more into this than I intended. I’m the one who always argues AGAINST the excessive defensiveness and self-pity of gays, as I was doing in this case.

    And for goodness sakes, you don’t have to be so literal. I was simply using one contagious fatal disease that does NOT have the whole negative connotation, as an indicative substitute for HIV in this case. The precise details of each disease is not the point. The point is that if one substituted HIV for another disease, it wouldn’t even have been reported on this site, and moreover, if it had, there would be few people who had a problem with the school acting to protect its students.

    But thank you for your needlessly patronising commemts. Which are especially unjustified as it is YOU that completely missed the point.

  • moxi

    Not Rolos. Not my Rolos!

  • Gorbeh

    So are they assuming he’s going to sleep with everyone? Because he’d pretty much have to if that is their excuse.

    Also, Hershey’s candy is crap. No problem not buying it if I’m already not buying it.

  • keebler elf

    So when’s the march?? spring break?

  • B

    Regarding “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.”

    … guys, the corporation that sells the candy has nothing to do with the school. The trust fund was set up from the estate of the company’s founder, and he died some time ago. The trust fund probably diversified, in which case it would not own much of Hershey’s stock.

  • DavyJones

    @John: Being a private school doesn’t inherently mean they can discriminate; no more than a private business can be discriminatory towards who they allow to come into their store.

    As mentioned, the ADA specifically makes it illegal for all schools to discriminate based on HIV status. The school could have chosen not to admit him for any number of reasons, but since they specifically cite his HIV status, that makes it illegal discrimination…

Comments are closed.