The Milton Hershey School came under fire this year when the board decided it would not admit a student who was HIV-positive. AIDS advocates and civil liberty groups protested the decision and launched a lawsuit saying the decision was discrimination, violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. The mother of Ryan White, a young man who was rejected from his school in the 1980s over his HIV status, also came to the student’s defense, reminding people about past stigmas that have no place in education today.
But in a surprise turn, the school reversed its decision and says it will now admit the HIV-positive student after developing a new set of guidelines to address health issues at the private boarding school for low-income students in Hershey, PA., just two hours from Philly.
Milton Hershey School President Anthony Colistra issued a statement that, while defending the school’s decisions, also apologizes. ”Although we believed that our decisions regarding Abraham Smith’s (a pseudonym) application were appropriate, we acknowledge that the application of federal law to our unique residential setting was a novel and difficult issue,” Colistra said. “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.”
The lawsuit is still pending, and will remain so, reports the Associated Press, until the admissions process can be accessed within the next year.
Advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), a group that launched a protest against not only the school, but also the Hershey Company which finances the school, applauded the decision to admit the ninth grader today.
“A mortal blow against AIDS stigma and discrimination has been struck today with Hershey’s groundbreaking decision to reverse course, end it’s illegal and immoral HIV/AIDS discrimination and enroll this otherwise qualified HIV-positive teen at the Hershey School so that he may get on with his education and his life,” says Michael Weinstein, AHF president. “We congratulate Hershey officials for seeing the error of their ways on this issue and finally facilitating this student’s enrollment.”
The student, now 14, currently attends a public school in Delaware County. According to his lawyer, he’s considering the offer.