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The Milton Hershey School, founded by chocolate-maker Milton Hershey, operates in Pennsylvania and was founded in 1909 to educate socially disadvantaged and low-income students for free. Now, the school has reportedly denied admission to a HIV-positive student because of his status in a move that may be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the 13-year-old student requesting the school reverse its decision and admit the student. The suit also requests that the school be forced to conduct sensitivity trainings to its students, and pay costs and punitive damages to the student and his mother.
The school claims that it denied the student admission because of safety reasons. They said that they could not "accommodate the needs of students with chronic communicable diseases" that would pose threats to their other students, reports The Patriot-News.
In fact, the school had also sought to seek a court declaration saying that their actions did not violate the ADA. The student's lawsuit, however, preempted their legal plans.
Individuals with HIV are considered to have a "disability" under the ADA. As a result, they are afforded certain protections against discrimination in places of public accommodation such as schools.
Places of public accommodation may refuse to admit a person with HIV if doing so would pose a "significant risk to the health or safety of others." But public accommodations can only deny HIV-positive individuals if the risk cannot be reduced or eliminated through a reasonable accommodation.
The Milton Hershey School denied the HIV student because it says there is a direct threat to other students, as HIV can be transmitted through sexual contact. The question that the court will have to consider is whether or not reasonable accommodations -- such as educating students about safe sex -- would have been enough to mitigate any potential risks.