Teacher With AIDS Removed From Class
Long Beach, Calif--"I wonder about the message this gives to the students," Vincent Chalk said last week. "If we tell them you can't get aids through casual contact, then they must be wondering why am I not being allowed to teach."
The California special-education teacher had just been consigned to an office job, following a federal judge's refusal to grant the preliminary injunction he had sought to keep school officials from transferring him out of the classroom.
U.S. District Judge William Gray said that too little was known about acquired immune deficiency syndrome to allow the Orange County educator to return to his class of hearing-impaired students. Mr. Chalk was transferred this month to a job writing grant proposals.
"When all was said and done, they4just didn't want me around the kids," said Mr. Chalk, whose illness was diagnosed in February. He has not returned to class since then.
Mr. Chalk's case has been closely watched by experts because it is one of the first school-related aids legal actions to involve a teacher. It is also among the first in which a court has ruled in favor of barring the victim from work or school.
Expected to Win
In his Sept. 8 ruling, Judge Gray conceded that Mr. Chalk, like the aids-carrying students who have gone to court before him, will probably win his fight to continue teaching. The teacher is protected, he said, by the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which bars discrimination against the handicapped.
The U.S. Supreme Court cited the law in its decision last March allowing a Florida teacher with tubercu8losis to return to the classroom.
But Judge Gray said he was denying the preliminary injunction because the job change would not cause Mr. Chalk "irreparable harm."
The ruling may effectively exclude Mr. Chalk from teaching until at least January, when his trial is scheduled to take place, said Marjorie Rushforth, one of the teacher's lawyers. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has also agreed to join the case.
To speed up the legal process, lawyers for Mr. Chalk last week said they planned to ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to issue a writ of mandamus or an expedited appeal in the case. The former is a request for the court to order Judge Gray to make a decision. The latter asks the court to take up Mr. Chalk's request immediately as an appeal, according to Ms. Rushforth.
"Hopefully, once it's resolved, othchers won't have to have the fear of having to go through something like this," Mr. Chalk said during a seminar on aids here.
Both he and Orange County school officials turned to the courts this summer after they were unable to reach agreement on whether he should be allowed to return to his class this month.
School officials said they were being "cautious" in asking a local trial court to make a declaratory judgement in the dispute. A ruling, they said, would also help relieve them of potential liability.
"If someone [in the school] were to come down with aids, they would immediately consider some kind of court action against us," Robert Peterson, county superintendent of schools, said in a previous interview.
Nationwide, a handful of school districts faced--and apparently settled--similar aids-related employee disputes this month. In Dallas, school officials followed the advice of a medical advisory group and allowed an unnamed employee to go back to work in that city's schools. In an effort to protect the employee's privacy, the officials refused to say whether or not he was a teacher.
Jackson, Miss., school officials asked a teacher suspected of having aids to undergo testing for the disease. Though he would not say what the outcome of the tests was, Robert N. Fortenberry, Jackson's superintendent of schools, said the teacher had agreed to be transferred to a nonteaching job this month.