April 22, 2005
As part of a proposed expansive overhaul of its 1995 HIV/AIDS policy, the Tennessee State Board of Education has ruled that students living with the disease can participate in public school sports. The revised policy, which all public schools statewide will be expected to follow, was approved by state school board members on April 15 and is expected to be finalized in August.
"It's a big step forward for us," said Jerry Swaim, director of school health for the state Department of Education. State officials say the revised policy to allow HIV-infected students to participate in sports is merely correcting an oversight made 10 years ago, when the current policy was adopted. "We didn't even touch on [athletics] in 1995," said Swaim, who led the committee of educators and others rewriting the policy. "It just didn't come up in the conversation."
While privacy rules make it impossible to know how many Tennessee students and staff are HIV-positive, national statistics show there have been at least 54 AIDS cases in children under age 13 statewide.
The revised policy states that physical education teachers and athletic staff should take any reasonable step to accommodate HIV-infected students who are capable of participating in sports and other school-sponsored physical activities. Staff would also be required to continue to maintain basic infection control guidelines in locker rooms and in all athletic settings. Athletes would continue to receive safety and infection control information as well.
The policy also requires Tennessee's 136 school systems to have an HIV/AIDS policy protecting the privacy of infected students and staff. If an employee refused to work with or provide services to an infected person, they would undergo HIV/AIDS education. If they still refused, they could be subject to disciplinary action.