HIV-Positive 13-year-old Denied Enrollment to Hershey School

A 13-year-old boy who applied to the Milton Hershey School, a private boarding school which houses and educates young students from low-income families, was denied entry based solely on the fact that he is HIV-positive.

A 13-year-old boy who applied to the Milton Hershey School, a private boarding school which houses and educates young students from low-income families, was denied entry based solely on the fact that he is HIV-positive.

The Milton Hershey School is located in Hershey, PA and was founded in 1909 by the Hershey’s chocolate tycoon. The school is a home for the diverse students who all come from low-income families from across the United States.

The mere fact that Milton Hershey is a boarding school is apparently what caused the school administrators to deny the HIV-positive youth (whose name is being withheld because of his age) entry to the establishment; the residential environment and the possibility of sexual activity made the teen too much of a “threat” to be allowed enrollment.

“We had to balance his rights and interests with our obligation to provide for the health and safety of other students,” reported Connie McNamara, spokesperson for Milton Hershey. “And this meets a direct threat.”

According to McNamara, the school assessed the situation, keeping in mind the needs of its 1,850 students, all of whom are children from low-income families from pre-kindergarten to the 12th grade. Reporting that she and other school officials are well aware that coughing, hugging, and sharing public restrooms will not transmit HIV, the boy was still denied because he might one day become sexually active.

"Our kids are no different than teenagers anywhere else," she said. "Despite encouraging abstinence, we cannot be 100 percent certain our kids are not engaging in sexual activity." McNamara noted that students of Milton Hershey live together in on-campus housing in groups of 10 to 12.

"We…made the best decision we could," McNamara said. "Our heart goes out to this young man.”

Arthur Caplan, director of the Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics, was astounded by the school’s reason for denying the boy enrollment. "This notion that you can't put him in residential housing at a school because he is a vector of death is a throwback to 1987, when people were worried you couldn't mainstream children in any school," said Caplan. "It sets back what we know to be true about the disease."

In response to the boy’s rejection, the AIDS Law Project filed suit on behalf of the boy on Wednesday in Philadelphia District Court under the title “Mother Smith and Abraham Smith v. Milton Hershey School.” They contend that the Milton Hershey School violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, “the presence of a person living with HIV infection or diagnosed with AIDS poses no significant risk to others in school, day care, or school athletic settings.”

"This young man is a motivated, intelligent kid who poses no health risk to other students, but is being denied an educational opportunity because of ignorance and fear about HIV and AIDS," stated the boy’s lawyer, Ronda Goldfein.

“My client meets all those criteria” necessary to be enrolled in the school, Goldfein said. “He just also happens to have HIV — which the school has determined is a ‘documented need’ it cannot meet. But my client does not need any special accommodations, nor did he ask for any.”

The 13-year-old boy told ABC News in a written statement that he still wants to attend Milton Hershey, but he is "now afraid to.” He continued to state, “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.”

The boy also stated that he hopes he can one day forgive the school for how they have made him feel as a result of denying him based on his disease. “I don't know when,” he said, “but one day. I'm 13 right now and still got a whole lot of life to live.”