By Shannon Ingram, SIECUS Program Research Intern
Officials of the Milton Hershey School in Derry Township, PA, say they have denied admission to 13-year-old applicant because of his HIV-positive status. The school argues that it is unable to ensure that the applicant would not have unprotected sexual contact with other students in the residential setting.1 Founded in 1909, the private co-ed school primarily serves youth in need of structured environments who come from lower-income families.
The AIDS Law Project in Philadelphia has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court to challenge the school’s decision, arguing that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects HIV-positive youth from such exclusion.
School spokesperson Connie McNamara said, “If a student comes to us with an active, chronic communicable disease that we believe under the ADA laws rises to the level that it is a direct threat to the health and safety of the students - if that disease rises to that level, then we will not admit that student.” 2
The school released a statement defending its decision while acknowledging that HIV is not transmitted via casual contact. 3
Phil Goropoulos, president of Alder Health Services in nearby Harrisburg, described the school’s decision as “insane, illegal and inappropriate…Discrimination happens all the time...but usually it’s subtle,” he said. “You would think 31 years later we would be beyond this.” 4
1 Nick Malawskey, “Milton Hershey School Stands Behind Rejection of Student with HIV,” PennLive.com, 3 December 2011, accessed 3 January 2012, <http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/12/milton_hershey_school_stands_b.html>.
3 “Statement from Milton Hershey School on Lawsuit Filed by the Aids Law Project of PA,” accessed 3 January 2012, <http://www.mhs-pa.org/statement>.