Hershey drops ban on HIV-positive kids

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Milton Hershey School has dropped its ban on HIV-positive students, said president Anthony Colistra.

Colistra announced the new policy for the private Hershey, Pa., school this week and said the decision means at least one student, a 13-year-old identified as "Abraham Smith," can continue with the enrollment process for the fall term.

“Our new process is already in effect,” Colistra said. “We are issuing a new equal opportunity policy clearly stating that the school treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants. We are also developing and providing mandatory training for staff and students on HIV issues and expanding our current training on universal precautions.

The school had rejected Smith’s application for enrollment because of his HIV status. The AIDS Law Project in Philadelphia took up the teenager's case in a federal suit alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and anti-discrimination law.

Colistra, in his statement, said, “Although we believed that our decisions regarding Abraham Smith's 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.”

Colistra apologized to Abraham Smith, not his real name, and his family “for the impact of our initial decision” and said, “We hope to welcome this young man to our school family in the near future.”

“This is a great victory for people with HIV,” said ALP executive director Ronda B. Goldfein. “The fact that the school now is willing to comply with the law is an important step in this lawsuit.”

The school was founded in 1909 by chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey and his wife, Catherine, as a school for orphan boys. Today it is a private, philanthropic boarding school funded by the Milton Hershey School Trust, which owns controlling interest in the chocolate company and Hershey Entertainment and Resorts.

The school is open to those who "come from a family of low income, limited resources, and social need; be from the ages of 4-15 years old; have the ability to learn; be free of serious emotional and behavioral problems … ; be able to take part in the School’s program; and be born in the United States."