Hershey School settles AIDS discrimination case: “Advocacy aided young man’s quest for justice,” says AHF

In Advocacy by AHF

Last month, Hershey school reversed its earlier—illegal—decision to deny admission to an otherwise qualified HIV-positive teen; today, the non-profit AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania announced a $700,000 settlement between the school and the boy, his family and the U.S. Department of Justice.
WASHINGTON (September 9, 2012) Advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) today welcomed the news that the Hershey Company-funded Milton Hershey School has reached a settlement in an HIV discrimination lawsuit over its earlier decision to deny admission to an otherwise qualified student because he was HIV-positive, misguidedly calling him at that time a “direct threat to the health and safety of others.” The settlement was announced in a press release issued by the nonprofit AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania (ALPP), which represented the boy in the lawsuit. In its statement, ALPP noted that the boy, “…and his mother will receive $700,000 from the Milton Hershey School in a federal AIDS-discrimination lawsuit settlement…The school also will pay $15,000 in civil penalties assessed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which thoroughly investigated the complaint and concluded that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The settlement requires the school to provide HIV training for its staff and students and to pay an undisclosed amount of attorney’s fees to the AIDS Law Project.”

“We are pleased to learn that the Hershey School has had to answer for its illegal and immoral HIV/AIDS discrimination and thank the AIDS Law Project for its tireless work on this teen’s case,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which contributed $50,000 to the legal defense of the boy when the case was first announced back in December 2011. “No doubt, advocacy aided this young man’s quest for justice. Advocates from AHF and many other groups and individuals spoke out against this repugnant discrimination by Hershey through protests, actions, letter writing campaigns and other advocacy efforts, and we vow to continue to do so when such discrimination arises.”

In its statement earlier today, ALPP also noted that, “…on Aug. 6, the school’s president, Anthony J. Colistra, publicly apologized to the student and to his mother, offered to reconsider the boy’s application, and announced “a new Equal Opportunity Policy clearly stating that the School treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants.”

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. Since then, advocates from AHF spearheaded a boycott of Hershey, held numerous protests, press conferences and actions outside the school itself, in nearby Harrisburg, PA, by Hershey retail stores in New York and Chicago, at the Candy Expo trade show in Chicago.

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.

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