School Refuses HIV-Positive Student

Milton Hershey School refused to enroll a 13-year-old because of his HIV status

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, you get to know a lot of people associated with the Milton Hershey School – a co-educational boarding school in Hershey, Pa., that was founded by the chocolate mogul who sought to help kids who needed it the most. During its more than 100-year history, the school has become known as not only one of the finest educational institutions in the country, funded by the success of the Hershey Corporation, but it’s grown to include almost 2,000 students – a far cry from when the first few children arrived to the bucolic estate in 1910.

I’ve met quite a few students at the school when I was growing up a few miles away. I also met some great teachers there. And one thing always stood out – their willingness to work hard and achieve much success despite sometimes a troubled home life. In fact, the majority of graduates go onto higher education with no shortage of scholarships and success stories that continue to charm donors and parents who desperately grasp for the golden ticket that is admission.

But in recent years, the school has admittedly suffered a few set backs. The first came in the form of abuse allegations (and an alleged cover up) and now a lawsuit from a 13-year-old honor student who says he was denied admission because he’s HIV-positive. After the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania filed the lawsuit, alleging that the school wanted to “protect” other students from this young man, Milton Hershey School seems to have a lot of explaining to do.

“In order to protect our children in this unique environment, we cannot accommodate the needs of students with chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others,” the school has said in a recent statement. But this fails to recognize the Americans With Disabilities Act – which prohibits discrimination of those with HIV and AIDS. It also strips dignity away from this young student and others like him who deserve an education and a normal life regardless of his HIV status. Have these folks forgotten about Ryan White, one of the first young people to face hatred and discrimination in the public eye for having AIDS?

For such a respected educational institution to discriminate against a young man, who by all accounts is a right fit for the school, is an outrage. Not only does it seem to adhere to dated notions that HIV can somehow be passed from one person to another through casual contact, but it attempts to set a precedent that would punish other prospective students who may also be positive from applying to the school.

What’s perhaps even more disturbing is that Milton Hershey is attempting to frame the young man’s HIV status as a hindrance to the educational community there. But does Milton Hershey not realize that today, medications and many scientific advancements mean that HIV-positive people – like this young man – can live healthy, happy lives?

The administration’s knowledge of HIV advancement is about as backwards as their take on discrimination (a case they may likely lose thanks to the said Americans With Disabilities Act). That the same discrimination that was once fed by ignorance and fear almost 30 years ago is being applied today by a world-class educational institution in 2011 is especially concerning.

A petition has been started to bring awareness to this issue. Click here to find out how you can sign it.

Check out Anderson Cooper’s interview with a Milton Hershey administrator: