Students with Disabilities Not Allowed to Return to Public School Over Unlawful Fear of HIV Exposure
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 13, 2013
STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES NOT ALLOWED TO RETURN TO PUBLIC SCHOOL OVER UNLAWFUL FEAR OF HIV EXPOSURE
Pea Ridge – Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, Inc. (DRC) is investigating the Pea Ridge Public School District’s unlawful refusal to allow three school aged siblings, two of whom have disabilities, the ability to attend school. The students have been denied the right to attend the Pea Ridge Public School until documentation is provided that they are not HIV positive.
“The actions taken by the Superintendent of Pea Ridge School District are appalling and is reminiscent of times past and the case of Ryan White,” says Tom Masseau, executive director of DRC. “The fact that the foster families have to provide documentation that the children are HIV negative before entering the school is unlawful and immoral. Further, the fact the school’s attorney authorized this unlawful act is at best appalling. It stigmatizes individuals with disabilities or their “perceived” disabilities as there is no indication these individuals have HIV. There is only an unlawful fear that they do.
A service provider in the area is currently providing services to four siblings, three of whom are school age. Two of the children have significant sensory processing issues and become overwhelmed very easily. The symptoms of their sensory overstimulation can include: self-hitting, scratching others, biting self and others. The children have had a longstanding relationship with the foster care system due to their mother’s neglect.
The three children were attending Pea Ridge Public School, with limited supports. The foster families have been called many times to pick up the children from school when challenges occur. Currently, one of the boys is only allowed to attend school for 2 hours a day.
Over the summer, the school district completed a thorough review of records and found an evaluation on one of the boys that stated that the mother and sister were both HIV positive. The school called a meeting on Monday, September 9, 2013, and informed the service provider that the students could not return to school until documentation could be provided to the school, ensuring that the students were HIV negative.
Knowing that the school did not have the right to deny the students access to education based on suspicion, the students returned the following day. The school kept the students until one of the foster parents received a call on September 12, 2013 from the school to pick up the student and take him home because they had not produced the required documentation. The Superintendent informed the foster parent that upon advice from school counsel, the students were not to return to school without documentation. The service provider asked for written notification and was provided such letter.
Because of the letter, the oldest sibling was not allowed to participate in his first football game of the year.
DRC is reviewing all possible avenues to ensure that the three siblings will be placed back into the Pea Ridge Public School. Further, DRC will be advocating the Superintendent, along with the School Board, receive sensitivity training on disability issues.“DRC cannot believe that we are still dealing with the stereotypes associated with HIV in the year 2013,” says Masseau. # # #
Disability Rights Center of Arkansas,, Inc. (DRC) is the independent, private, nonprofit organization designated by the governor of Arkansas to assist the lives of people with disabilities through education, empowerment and protection of their legal rights. DRC services include information and referral, short-term assistance, selected individual and legal representation, systemic advocacy, monitoring, and training.