05/06/09 — School board questions policy on HIV status

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School board questions policy on HIV status

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 6, 2009 1:46 PM

A new HIV/AIDS policy adopted by the school system might protect those with the virus by keeping their identities private, but potentially puts others at risk, some school board members say.

School board Policy No. 6145 had kicked up some debate during earlier readings, but complying with federal and state law won out when the measure was put to a vote Monday night. It passed 5-2, with dissenting votes from board members John Grantham and Eddie Radford.

According to the policy, the evidence is "overwhelming" that the risk of transmitting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is extremely low in school settings when current guidelines are followed and "poses no significant risk to others in school, day care or school athletic settings."

The policy supports a student or staff member's right to attend school and be subject to the same rules and policies.

It further protects the individual's right to privacy, which means no information regarding status will be divulged, and health records are considered confidential. Pupils and staff members are "not required to disclose HIV infection status to anyone in the education system," the policy states, adding that HIV antibody testing is not required for any purpose.

Preventive measures are recommended, however, and the appropriate personnel are to be notified if there is "reasonable risk" of transmitting an infection.

It reads, "If a situation occurs at school in which a person might have been exposed to an infectious agent, such as an instance of blood-to-blood contact, school authorities shall counsel that person (or, if a minor, alert a parent or guardian) to seek appropriate medical evaluation."

Further, regarding athletics and competitive sports, the policy says the privilege of participating is not conditional on a person's HIV status.

Grantham was the most vocal on the subject at Monday's meeting.

"I understand that we don't have a lot of choice on what can be divulged," he said. "I can't vote for this because I don't agree with the legislation. People need to be aware. Parents need to be aware of it. (Somebody) can go to any school that we have, staff or pupils, with HIV, which puts others at risk, and they don't have to tell anybody."

Sporting events are a particular concern, he said.

"If you have a wrestling match or something like that, by the time they clean up, if they've been exposed to blood-borne pathogens or whatever, it's too late, they have already been exposed," he said. "It's too late. What are you going to do?"

Beyond that, Grantham said his discomfort comes in being unable to tell parents their child may have been exposed to HIV.

"That child may have the rest of their lives ruined," he said. "That's totally wrong. It's not fair to put other people at risk over a few people that have it, so I can't support the policy."

Board member Dave Thomas said he did not necessarily disagree, but went with the legal aspect.

"We appreciate (board attorney) Jack Edwards doing a lot of research on that," he said. "We're just following the law the way it's written."

"I'm in agreement with (regard to) contact sports," Radford said. "I know there's not a whole lot we can do about it. Hopefully in the future there may be something we can do about it."

Board Chairman George Moye attempted to explain the rationale for the policy.

"I suspect we agree with Mr. Grantham," he began.

"All of us," board member Shirley Sims said.

"We have to tailor our policies to receive state funds," Moye continued. "We have to comply with federal and state law."

During board comment later in the meeting, Ms. Sims was the only one to offer further comment on the issue.

"I appreciate the position that you have taken about this particular policy," she told Grantham. "I think we all concur with your questions and thoughts about it, but right now it's the law of the land. But maybe this will bring some attention to some others in the community that feel like you do."

Grantham said afterward that the bigger issue at this point is awareness, and allowing parents and the public to realize some of the ramifications of the HIV policy as it is currently written.