After denying a 13-year-old student admission last year because of his HIV status, Milton Hershey School — a private boarding school founded by the chocolate tycoon to support lower income and socially disadvantaged youth — is reversing its decision. The school is now offering admission to HIV-positive students as well as updating their policies to be more sensitive to HIV-related issues.
The school denied admission to the 13-year-old, who has lived with HIV all his life, based on concerns about “chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others.” The student’s parents filed a lawsuit on his behalf, alleging the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying entrance to their son.
Milton Hershey School President Anthony Colistra issued a statement yesterday to say that, after consultations with the Justice Department, the school has changed its mind. In his statement, Colistra also pledged his support for a broader effort to accommodate HIV-positive individuals at the school:
Our new process is already in effect. We are issuing a new Equal Opportunity Policy clearly stating that the school treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants. We are also developing and providing mandatory training for staff and students on HIV issues and expanding our current training on Universal Precautions [steps to prevent HIV infection].
The case inspired national protests against the school as activists pushed for an end to institutional discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. Although the Milton Hershey School’s reversal is welcome news, the boy’s lawyer has maintained that the school’s admission offer will not put an end to the lawsuit.