Ryan White’s Mother to Hershey

She criticizes Milton Hershey's refusal to admit an HIV-positive student

As we’ve been reporting for the last few weeks, the Milton S. Hershey School has come under fire from several AIDS organizations for refusing to admit a student who is HIV positive. As a court case is currently pending in which the school has been sued for discrimination, Jeanne White Ginder, the mother of the late Ryan White – the well-known teenager from Indiana who was among the first young people to disclose his status in the 1980s – has spoken out about the local incident.

While White faced many of the same obstacles at the time when much less was known about the disease (it’s been 22 years since her son died from AIDS complications), she has criticized the school for this latest incident and disqualifying a student on the basis of his living with HIV.

Here’s what she had to say:

This April 8th – Easter Sunday – will mark 22 years since my son Ryan passed away after his truly courageous battle with AIDS – and our family’s battle with the discrimination, fear-mongering and misinformation it fostered in Indiana and across America back in the earliest days of the epidemic. The news that in this day and age, the Milton Hershey School rejected an otherwise qualified 13-year-old boy due to his HIV-positive status brings back horrible memories of what Ryan had to go through 27 years ago when all he wanted to do was simply to go back to school.

I am truly saddened by the discrimination and ignorance shown today by administrators at the Hershey School and the three board members who sit on both the school and the chocolate company’s board of directors; however, in honor of Ryan’s indomitable spirit, I have to look at this situation as an opportunity to educate Hershey to do the right thing and lead by example. Hershey – both the school and the chocolate company – should apologize and denounce its rejection of the boy as unfounded and discriminatory and really step up to the plate to educate both their staffs and the public-at-large about the realities of HIV/AIDS.

Shortly after news broke just before World AIDS Day last year about the Hershey School’s rejection of the HIV-positive boy, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) hosted a press conference in Washington D.C. to announce the launch of a campaign against HIV/AIDS discrimination at the school, as well as support of the federal discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of the positive teen.

Similarly, both White and his mother faced a lengthy legal battle when the boy’s Indiana school refused to admit him after learning he was HIV positive as the result of a blood transfusion. It was only after the young man’s death in 1990 that the U.S. Congress passed a major piece of legislation named in his honor, the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides funding for HIV/AIDS programs for low-income Americans.

Want to learn more? AHF has launched a website EndHIVStigma.org where the public find out more about the Milton Hershey School case, the facts about HIV/AIDS and how to send emails to three Hershey Company board members who also sit on the board of the Milton Hershey School Trust.

What do you think? Should the school face charges for discriminating against a student who’s HIV positive?