Monday, September 16, 2013

One Step Forward .... Twenty-Six Years Back

The more things change … yada yada yada … I still remember this story from 1987 and remember how despicable people could be when they are ignorant of a situation and have no education regarding facts.

Way back when, in Florida, Clifford and Louise Ray were forced to sue the DeSoto County school system after it barred their three sons from attending Memorial Elementary School because the boys had AIDS. The result of that lawsuit was that a Federal judge ordered the boys, Richard, Robert and Randy,  reinstated in school, but then the unthinkable happened; after weeks of death threats and bomb threats and a school boycott by ignorant parents, a suspicious fire destroyed the Ray’s home just as the boys were about to return to school.

Now, had there been more education about HIV and AIDS, what causes it and how it spreads, maybe these boys and their family wouldn’t have had to endure the threat of being killed just for going to school; they wouldn’t have had to lose their home, either. And, while that was 1987, and you hope things change, you realize that ignorance and lack of education and understanding about HIV and AIDS is still out there. This time in Arkansas.

The Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, Inc. [DRC] is claiming that the Pea Ridge Public School District has removed three siblings, foster children, two of whom have disabilities, from school until the children and their foster parents prove they are not HIV-positive.
Tom Masseau, Executive Director of DRC:
“The actions taken by the Superintendent of Pea Ridge School District are appalling and is reminiscent of times past and the case of Ryan White. The fact that the foster families have to provide documentation that the children are HIV negative before entering the school is unlawful and immoral. Further, the fact the school’s attorney authorized this unlawful act is at best appalling. It stigmatizes individuals with disabilities or their ‘perceived’ disabilities as there is no indication these individuals have HIV. There is only an unlawful fear that they do.
See, no one is saying that these children are HIV-positive — that’s not the issue. The claim is that they must prove they are not HIV-positive before they can be allowed into school.

Pea Ridge Superintendent Rick Neal would not confirm or deny the allegations but did admit that, in a letter sent to the foster parents, the district cited the Arkansas School Boards Association policy as one of the reasons for their decision.  They also say they consulted the school district attorney and a private law firm.

So, it does kind of sound like they are trying to keep these kids from school because they’re foster children and foster children need to prove their HIV status before being allowed in class with, you know, the regular kids who’d never have HIV.

This whole mess began over the summer, according to the DRC, when the school district completed a review of records and found an evaluation on one of the boys that stated that his mother and one of his siblings were HIV-positive. So, as school was starting for the new year, administrators informed the foster parents that the children could not return to school until documentation was provided proving they were HIV negative.

When the DRC stepped in, knowing that the school did not have the right to deny the boys access to education based only on suspicion, the students returned to school the following day. But the school kept the boys out of class until one of the foster parents received a call on September 12 to pick up one of the boys and take him home because they had not produced the required documentation. 

Just this morning the Pea Ridge School District issued a statement:
"The Pea Ridge School District is dedicated to providing a safe environment for our students, teachers and staff. 
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. 
Our goal is to provide the best education for every student, including those in questions, in a responsible, respectful and confidential manner."
Here’s the deal: this school district is discriminating against foster children because they do not require non-fostered children to prove their HIV status before they are allowed in class.

But what’s worse is that the school district is keeping alive the myth that HIV is easily transmitted, and it isn’t. Children sharing pencils are not in danger. Sitting next to an HIV-positive student doesn’t increase your risk. Sure, there are precautions, but they involve mostly the mingling of bodily fluids, not the mingling of students in a classroom.

You’d think we would have learned more than that by now, but I guess in places like Arkansas, and the Pea Ridge School District, it’s still 1987.


anne marie in philly said...

oh for the love of pete...stoopid stoopid stoopid! these school district members should have to write "AIDS is not a communicable disease" 1000 times on the blackboard!

the dogs' mother said...

We are out of the public school system now but never heard anything like this and did have a child who needed medical supervision during the years. Puzzling.

viktor kerney said...

I can't believe that school, really?

Biki Honko said...

WTF? It's 2013! Have they been living in a deep dark cavern since the 80's?