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Va. Board Votes To Readmit AIDS Student

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The school board in Fairfax County, Va.--the largest district in the country so far to be sued over its aids policy--this month voted to readmit a 5-year-old girl with the disease to kindergarten.

The board's decision, reached during an emergency closed-door session on Jan. 2, helped defuse a controversy that had raged for 10 days in the 120,000-student system.

The child has not attended classes since Nov. 10, when school officials sent her home with a note asking for medical information on her condition and informing her mother that they were considering whether to allow her to continue attending school.

The mother, in an effort to force school officials to readmit the child, filed a lawsuit on Dec. 22 in federal district court in Alexandria, Va.

An Offhand Remark

The controversy escalated after a report in the Washington Post quoted Superintendent of Schools Robert R. Spillane as saying: "The kid'll be dead in a few months. What's the point of the lawyer?"

A spokesman for the Fairfax County schools said Mr. Spillane denied making the comment.

"The callousness of the printed remark reflects neither my feelings nor the position of the Fairfax County public schools," Mr. Spillane added in a statement the following day. Another reporter who heard the disputed conversation following a press conference also said the remark had been taken out of context. Peter Baker of the Washington Times said the superintendent was referring to the mother's choice in immediately taking the matter to court and not to the futility of educating a child destined to die soon.

The comment drew calls for Mr. Spillane's resignation from local parent groups and the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The lawsuit, which lawyers for the family said they expected to be resolved soon, is one of approximately six such cases that have been filed nationwide. In four of the six, said Kenneth Labowitz, a lawyer for the Fairfax County family, the courts have ordered the schools to admit the aids-carrying student.

"If Fairfax, with all of its resources, could be forced to turn around so quickly, can there really be more school systems out there who will take the same tack?" Mr. Labowitz said.

Around the Country

In other aids-related cases around the country, a 6-year-old in Belleville, Ill., quietly returned to school on Dec. 17, according to his principal, James Rosborg. The child, who had been barred from attending school since August, was allowed back after his family filed a lawsuit against district officials.

And in Wagoner, Okla., parents who unsuccessfully petitioned a federal court to keep an aids\infected child out of their children's school vowed to boycott the school. John Coker, superintendent of schools in Wagoner, said that, as of last week, the parents of 14 children had kept their children at home.

He said school officials, in an effort to protect the family from harassment, were declining to reveal "when and if" the infected child would return to school.

The school board's decision in Fairfax County was reached after the county health director determined that the child, whose identity has not been revealed, posed no threat to the health of her classmates. The girl will also be monitored weekly by medical professionals for any changes in her condition.

School-board officials said they hoped to adopt a formal policy for handling students with the disease later this month.--dv

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