By Chelsea Masters, SIECUS Public Policy Intern
The Milton Hershey School, a private school in central Pennsylvania, made news in December, 2011, when it denied admission to a 13-year old applicant who disclosed his HIV-positive status. The boarding school’s rationale for barring the youth was its obligation to protect the health and safety of students already residing there.
With assistance from the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, the applicant’s family sued the school. On July 12, 2012, the school reversed its policy under advisement from the U.S. Department of Justice. School officials are issuing a new Equal Opportunity policy clearly stating that HIV-positive applicants are to be treated no differently than any other applicant. An offer of admission was extended to the youth as part of the change.
Milton Hershey School was founded to assist low income and socially disadvantaged youth by providing a cost-free, year-round structured home.
Ronda Goldfein, an attorney with the AIDS Law Project, stated, “If you have a school that’s open to the public, then it’s open to the public. If you have a student that has a particular need and requests assistance, then you accommodate. You don’t simply say we don’t like you, we don’t like your diagnosis, you can’t come here.”
The school never denied that its reason for barring admission was the applicant’s HIV-positive status. The AIDS Law Project filed a federal lawsuit on youth’s behalf in the U.S. District Court, alleging that Milton Hershey “violated multiple anti-discrimination laws” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. School President Dr. Anthony Colistra confirmed that the youth had been offered admission following the policy reversal. “Although we believed that our decisions regarding [his] application were appropriate, we acknowledge that the application of federal law to our unique residential setting was a novel and difficult issue. The U.S. Department of Justice recently advised us that it disagrees with how we evaluated the risks and applied the law. We have decided to accept this guidance.”
Mandatory training on HIV issues is in development and will be required for staff and students.
Dan Stamm, “Hershey School Turns Away Boy With HIV,” NBC10 Philadelphia, 1 December 2011, accessed 8 August 2012, <http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/health/Hershey-School-HIV-Lawsuit-Boy-134802368.html>.
“Milton Hershey School Will Allow Admission to Qualified Students with HIV,” statement from Milton Hershey School, 6 August 2012, accessed 8 August 2012, <http://www.mhs-pa.org/admission-to-qualified-students>.
Stamm, “Hershey School Turns Away…”
Tara Culp-Ressler, “Milton Hershey School Reverses Its Decision, Allows Admission For HIV-Positive Student,” ThinkProgress, 7 August 2012, accessed 8 August 2012, <http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/08/07/649961/milton-hershey-school-reverses-its-decision-allows-admission-for-hiv-positive-student/>.
“Milton Hershey School Will Allow...”
Culp-Ressler, “Milton Hershey School Reverses…”