The NEW 1985

Milton Hershey School Rejects Amazing Student Because He’s HIV Positive

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When 13-year-old student John Doe (not his real name, obviously) applied to the Milton Hershey School—a private boarding school in Hershey, Pennsylvania for low-income students—he seemed like the ideal candidate: a good student who plays sports and studies several foreign languages. But because he’s been HIV positive his entire life, the school rejected him. Is John Doe the new Ryan White?

The school said, “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.”

So now Doe and his family are suing for discrimination with the hopes of still getting him enrolled.

On one hand you could argue this is a non-government funded private school that can decide its own enrollment, no matter how unfair the criteria. And even though they ignorantly consider HIV a “chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat,” it’s also possible that the school rejected Doe because they worried that other students might pass their diseases to Doe’s immune-suppressed body.

But even private schools are subject to consideration under federal discrimination laws. His rejection could be a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act or against other Pennsylvania laws that forbid based on HIV status.

And here’s the ultimate problem: after these students leave their school, they may live and work around someone who has HIV, the same way the rest of us do. By refusing Doe, the school would like to teach their students that HIV doesn’t exist and that the best way to deal with it is to avoid and discriminate against HIV-positive people—a pretty stupid lesson for any school, public or private