December 14, 2011
AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania (ALPP) is suing the Milton Hershey High School (MHHS) for low-income and socially disadvantaged students for allegedly violating the American Disabilities Act (ADA) by denying admission to an HIV-positive boy due to his medical condition. The suit was filed on behalf of the unidentified youth, referred to as "Abraham Smith," in US District Court in Philadelphia on Nov. 30.
Officials at the private boarding school in Hershey, which is affiliated with the Hershey chocolate company, acknowledge that the 13-year-old student was denied admission. MHHS said it is acting "to protect the students already in our care" in what it called "a unique environment." Students at the school live in groups of 10 to 12 and are supervised by married "house parents."
Since MHHS is forbidden by law from disclosing the student's HIV status, "We concluded that the risk was significant and rose to the level of a direct threat to the health and safety of others," said its statement. "Our teenagers are the same as teens all across the country. Despite our best efforts, some of our students will engage in sexual activity with one another."
Ronda B. Goldfein, the ALPP lawyer presenting the case, said her client, who takes HIV medication daily, meets the school's basic admission criteria. MHHS is violating the ADA, which prohibits discrimination of the disabled in "any place of public accommodation," the suit says.
"This decision was not made based on bias or ignorance," said MHHS. "We understand that the risks presented by an HIV-positive individual who is on medication are low."
"We believe we did the right thing in the instance of Abraham Smith," the school said. "Unlike public schools, the Milton Hershey School is not required to accept every student. We can lawfully exclude students who do not meet our eligibility criteria."