Somewhere in Philadelphia, a boy wanted to go to school. He came from a broken home, a challenging background. He was, however, determined. He worked hard in school, earning his place on the honor roll. He applied to the Milton Hershey School, which provides food, housing and a top-notch education to children with special needs. The Milton Hershey School turned this exceptional child down. Was it his grades? No. According to the school, the boy was denied admission because he is HIV positive.
The AIDs Law Project found out, got behind the young man and his story, and sued. Today, the Milton Hershey School is about to pay out a settlement totaling nearly $750,000. In addition, the school has issued a public apology and has offered to reconsider the potential student’s application. The case appears to have been a clear cut case of illegal discrimination.
A Painful Denial
Nine words cost the Milton Hershey School the case: “direct threat to the health and safety of others.” The school claimed that because the young man is HIV positive, he should not be allowed to live, eat and be educated with other students at Milton Hershey. Little is known about the school’s defense other than those nine words. If based solely on that, what does the school have to go on? According to the Aids Healthcare Foundation, the legal precedent for such an act was laid nearly thirty years ago, when a young man named Ryan White was expelled for being HIV positive. Now, in the 2010s, we celebrate the potential for finding a very real cure for HIV. The disease is far more manageable than it was in the days of Ryan White. In today’s reality, why would a young man with HIV pose a “direct threat to the health and safety of others?”
A History of Understanding
It has been nearly three decades since HIV first became a terrifying disease. The public’s perception of individuals was changed vastly a full two decades ago when NBA legend Magic Johnson announced he had contracted HIV. The disease was associated with homosexuality and, by definition in the mid-1980s, with homophobia. Once Magic made the announcement, it was widely accepted that HIV-positive individuals were all normal human beings tragically dealing with a potentially lethal disease. That should have been the Milton Hershey School’s point of view in 2012. However, this very real and very modern case illustrates the fact that ignorance and discrimination are alive and well in the United States and our school system.