The Pea Ridge School District in Arkansas has reportedly banned three foster siblings, two of whom have disabilities, from school until they prove they are not HIV-positive.
While reviewing records over the summer, school district officials found documentation revealing that students' birth mother and one of the three siblings were both HIV-positive. So now they're not allowed back in until tests show that they are negative for the virus.
It is understandable that other students and parents might feel fearful or confused about the potential "danger" of these siblings. HIV unfortunately has the stigma of being an easily transferable disease like the common cold or the flu, a fear that grows when paired with the risk of cancer.
But school officials should really know better. Here's what they would find with just a little bit of research. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV can really only be transmitted via blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. These fluids have to come in contact with damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream with a needle or a syringe.
So not only is HIV not communicable through something as simple as a sneeze, but school officials are essentially assuming that their students are sexual active enough that HIV transmission could be possible. Grade school children.
"The fact that the foster families have to provide documentation that the children are HIV negative before entering the school is unlawful and immoral," Tom Masseau, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, said.
He's right. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act states:
"Persons who are discriminated against because they are regarded as being HIV-positive are also protected. For example, the ADA would protect a person who is denied an occupational license or admission to a school on the basis of a rumor or assumption that he has HIV or AIDS, even if he does not."
The district superintendent reportedly cited school policy saying that students can be barred from attending school if there is a risk of a communicable disease being transferred but again, HIV is not legally considered a communicable disease.
In response to the backlash, Pea Ridge School District also released this statement on Monday:
"As reported in the media, the district has recently required some students to provide test results regarding their HIV status in order to formulate a safe and appropriate education plan for those children. This rare requirement is due to certain actions and behaviors that place students and staff at risk. The district respects the privacy and confidentiality of all students. It's is very unfortunate that information regarding this situation is being released by outside organizations."
Perhaps it's appropriate here to mention Ryan White, the national poster child for HIV/AIDS awareness in the 1980s, who was expelled from his middle school because of his infection? What about the huge legal battle with the school that followed, even though the Indiana state health commissioner told the school board that White posed no health risks to other students? What about how White died trying to educate others about the misconceptions of HIV?
It is in Pea Ridge School District's best interests to move forward and allow the students to come back to school. Yes, there might be fear and backlash among parents, but that's no reason to give into pressure. After all, it is the job of a school district to educate others, is it not?