February 8, 2012
Responding to a lawsuit, the Milton Hershey School (MHS) said in a court filing Friday that it acted properly in denying admission to a 13-year-old Delaware County boy identified in documents as "Abraham Smith." The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania (ALPP) filed an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) suit in federal court in Philadelphia in December, seeking reversal of the Hershey, Pa.-based boarding school's decision and payment of unspecified damages.
In its response, MHS said the case "requires a realistic examination of teen sexuality" and the "inability to control consensual sexual activity ... in the unique residential setting."
MHS said Smith in 2011 met "initial minimal qualifications" for admission to MHS, which serves low-income families. Before it discontinued processing Smith's application upon learning he had HIV, MHS said it "weighed a number of complicated factors." While it has policies to control sexual behavior, MHS said evidence shows "that a significant percentage of its students will ... become sexually active prior to graduation."
Smith's "needs cannot be accommodated without imposing an undue burden," MHS said, adding that it "must balance his rights against its obligations to the health and safety of other students." In asking the court to rule that it did not violate the ADA, the school said Smith "would pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others."
ALPP faulted MHS for failing "to make any individualized assessment as to whether Abraham's HIV status posed a direct threat." ALPP also said it will contest MHS's motion to move the trial from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, 15 minutes from the school, as being an immense inconvenience to the youth and his mother.