Following months of protests and actions, including a boycott of the candy giant, AIDS advocates congratulate Hershey and the Hershey school for reversing its illegal HIV/AIDS discrimination
WASHINGTON (August 6, 2012) Advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) today cheered the news that the Hershey Company-funded Milton Hershey School has announced that it will reverse course and now allow an HIV positive student who was previously denied admission to the prestigious school for low income students admission to the school this fall. According to the Associated Press, the school for low income and socially disadvantaged students says it will now, “… treat HIV-positive applicants the same as all others and is offering admission to a previously rejected Philadelphia-area teen. Milton Hershey School president Anthony Colistra issued a statement Monday that defended its previous decisions regarding the HIV-positive teenager, but says it adopted the new policy based on recent ‘guidance’ from the U.S. Department of Justice.”
“A mortal blow against AIDS stigma and discrimination has been struck today with Hershey’s groundbreaking decision to reverse course, end it’s illegal and immoral HIV/AIDS discrimination and enroll this otherwise qualified HIV-positive teen at the Hershey School so that he may get on with his education and his life,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “We congratulate Hershey officials for seeing the error of their ways on this issue and finally facilitating this student’s enrollment.”
Background on Hershey School AIDS Discrimination
Last fall, The Milton Hershey School—a boarding school for low-income students funded by the Hershey Company—rejected the boy for admission citing his HIV-positive status as the reason, misguidedly calling him a “direct threat to the health and safety of others.” In response, AHF launched a website www.EndHIVStigma.org where the public could learn more about the case, learn the facts about HIV/AIDS and send e-letters to three Hershey Company board members who also sit on the board of the Milton Hershey School Trust, urging them to denounce the discrimination and facilitate the boy’s admission into the school.
On December 1st, 2011, a lawsuit was filed against the school over the denial of admission to the boy. According to the Associated Press (Claim: Hershey School Rejects HIV-Positive Pa. Boy, By Peter Jackson, 12/1/11): “A private boarding school connected with the Hershey chocolate company says it was trying to protect other students when it denied admission to a Philadelphia-area teenager because he is HIV-positive. The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit on behalf of the unidentified boy in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Wednesday, claiming the Milton Hershey School for disadvantaged students violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. School officials acknowledged that the 13-year-old boy was denied admission because of his medical condition. They said they believed it was necessary to protect the health and safety of the 1,850 others enrolled in the residential institution, which serves children in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade and where students live in homes with 10 to 12 others.”
At the time of the filing of the lawsuit against the Hershey School, Jessica Reinhart, Grassroots Community Manager for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said, “The ignorance displayed by the Hershey School’s leadership is unacceptable and demonstrates just how much work there is still to be done to dismantle the fear and misinformation that still surrounds this disease more than 25 years after Ryan White.”
Ryan White was an American teenager from Kokomo, Indiana who, in the mid-1980s, was expelled from middle school because he was HIV-positive. A lengthy legal battle with the school ensued and White became a galvanizing force in educating the country about HIV & AIDS at a time when misinformation about the disease was widespread. After his death in 1990, 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 American.
# # #
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 176,000 individuals in 27 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. www.aidshealth.org