PA Private School Paying $700,000 To Boy It Rejected Because He Was HIV+

In a settlement with the Justice Department, the Milton Hershey School has agreed to pay $700,000 to Abraham Smith (not his real name) after allegations surfaced it denied his application because he was born with HIV.

When the situation came to light last year, the school, which provides a free education to at-risk youth, defended itself with a statement on its website:

“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.”

But Smith’s family filed suit and, today, the academy agreed to settle.
The Hershey School—named after the founder of the legendary chocolate company—has also agreed to enforce anti-discrimination and equal-opportunity policies, and to train staff and administration on the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires public accommodations (including private schools) to provide disabled individuals—including people with HIV—equal access to goods, services, privileges, accommodations, facilities, advantages and accommodations.

The school is also required to pay $15,000 in fines to the U.S. government.

“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.”