JOHN C. WHITEHEAD, The Patriot-News
About 20 demonstrators descended on Derry Township Tuesday morning to highlight the ongoing legal battle involving an HIV-positive teenage boy and the private Milton Hershey School in Derry Township.
The group spent the morning protesting along Hersheypark Drive near the Pennsylvania State Police Academy.
Organized by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the protesters — who hail from Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey — said they were upset over the residential school’s decision to reject the application of a student because he was HIV-positive.
One of the protesters, Barbara Chinn, of Washington, D.C., said she was outraged enough to travel to Hershey.
“I think it’s a moral issue,” Chinn said. “This should all be behind us, and we should be using this opportunity to share care and compassion for this young man, rather than ostracizing him and putting more stigma around it.”
Meanwhile, the legal maneuvering surrounding the teen’s lawsuit is continuing.
The school must file a response by the first week of February but is expected to file an answer by the end of the month. School officials said they are prepared to argue the case in court, and they believe they made the correct decision in rejecting the boy’s application.
“We understand and respect that people have different viewpoints on this matter,” said Connie McNamara, school spokeswoman. “We hope that fair-minded people also understand that we did not make this decision in ignorance, that we looked at all the complicated issues and made the decision we thought was best for our students.”
Specifically, school officials say that while it is not condoned, there is no way to stop their students from having sex with each other.
And because students do have sex, admitting a child with HIV would constitute a direct threat to other students. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, school officials say they could be allowed to reject the student’s admission on that basis.
HIV and AIDS advocates have rejected that argument, saying that with modern medical treatment even unprotected sexual encounters with an infected individual rarely result in the virus being spread.
Instead, they see the school’s stance as a form of discrimination.
Aids protest in Hershey
Jessica Reinhart, one of the protest’s organizers, echoed that argument Tuesday morning as her peers protested near Hersheypark Drive.
“As a school you should be educating, not discriminating,” Reinhart said. “It’s 2012, this is not the 1980s. … We will not tolerate this.”
Meanwhile, the group representing the teenager in question, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, said the demonstration by the protesters was heartening.
“We’re absolutely grateful for the support that is shown for the case,” Ronda Goldfein said, adding that it impacts her client as well.
“It’s been rough on him,” she said. “For him to see a group of strangers come out … that’s really gratifying.”