A Pennsylvania boarding school won't admit a 13-year-old HIV+ honors student, saying he's a threat.
Abraham Smith (not his real name) is a 13-year-old honors student who dreams of going to college. Abraham also has HIV, but he never supposed that would prevent him from attending the Milton Hershey School, a well-heeled boarding school in Pennsylvania.
Founded in 1909 by the chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey, the school with its $8 billion asset cushion, has refused to admit Abraham. On its website the school states that the boy would pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others, and as a private school it can establish its own eligibility criteria.
In fact, HIV discrimination is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania has filed suit against the school, alleging that it has broken the law by refusing to admit Abraham because he has HIV. For more than 23 years, this non-profit has been protecting the rights of people with HIV/AIDS.
"I thought I would get into the school, because of the type of student and person I am," Young Abraham told ABC News through an attorney. But as a result of the school's decision; "my life has turned into fear, anger, confusion and tears."
The school's administrators have never met Abraham or spoken to his family, his doctor or his current teachers - yet they claim they cannot accommodate his “documented needs” and express “significant concern is that HIV can be transmitted through sexual contact.”
“The idea that anyone could be denied entry based on a disability is astounding," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics. "It sets back what we know to be true about the disease." Caplan believes the school will lose the law suit "So they better get ready to figure out how they're going to accept him."
And how does Abraham feel? "As far as me still wanting to go to Milton Hershey I still do but I am now afraid to. I want them to apologize to me for making like I'm going to be a reckless teenager and put someone else in jeopardy. They should give me more credit than that."
Abraham’s plight reminds me of the 1980’s when Ryan White, a child with AIDS was not allowed to attend school. It is remarkable that thirty years later, we are still dealing with the same ignorance and discriminatory practices. We have learned many lessons along the painful road that we have traveled since the epidemic hit America in the early '80s. We have lost great friends, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters...we quickly learned that the virus does not discriminate. However, we have made great advances in medicine and technology and now millions of people, with the proper treatment, can live normal, productive lives.
Now is not the time to move backwards. Now is not the time to victimize those who have been affected by this disease. Now is not the time to deny Abraham Smith a chance to realize his dreams. Milton Hershey School, I urge you to reverse your decision and celebrate the potential of ALL of our youth.