Connecticut Panel To Weigh Admission of AIDS Students to Schools

By Anne Bridgman — October 24, 1984 5 min read

Connecticut’s commissioner of education has appointed a panel of educators and health officials to determine whether students with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (aids) or related diseases should be admitted to public schools.

The establishment of the task force is, in part, a reaction to a letter sent to Commissioner Gerald N. Tirozzi by John Dow Jr., superintendent of the New Haven Public Schools, who must decide how to educate a 4-year-old boy with aids, according to Rosa Quezada, assistant superintendent for staff and pupil support services in New Haven.

aids most often affects homosexual men, hemophiliacs, drug users, and Haitians, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Sixty-nine cases of aids in children under 13 have been reported since 1981, when the disease was first identified in the United States. Of those, 48 have died, according to the centers. The disease is thought to be transmitted from infected mothers to their children at birth.

As children with aids and aids-related complex--a precursor to aids that depresses the immune system--reach school age, a number of school districts are grappling with the question of how to provide appropriate educational services.

Clarification Sought

In his letter, Mr. Dow, who was asked recently by the Yale-New Haven Hospital to provide in-hospital schooling for the 4-year-old boy with aids, asked the state education department to clarify the position of schools in the event that they are asked to admit a student with the disease, Ms. Quezada said.

The boy was subsequently released from the hospital and his case was scheduled for review by district officials in a planning and placement meeting late last week.

The child is entitled by law to an education under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

Mr. Dow recommended to the board of education earlier this month that the district not admit a student with aids if the issue should arise, according to Ms. Quezada.

There are three other children with aids or related diseases in the Yale-New Haven Hospital, Ms. Quezada said. Upon their release, she pointed out, officials in other districts will most likely be faced with similar decisions.

Contagion Factors

“The charge of the task force as given by Commissioner Tirozzi is to develop guidelines advising school administrators how to proceed in offering an education to aids and aids-related-complex children and how to better inform the public about the disease,” according to a spokesman in the state department of education.

At the panel’s first meeting earlier this month, health officials and educators were divided over the primary objective of the 27-member task force, “to come to a consensus about contagion factors,” according to the spokesman.

Representatives from the state department of health services and a number of health-related professional associations argued that children with aids, which apparently is transmitted primarily by contact with body fluids of an aids carrier, do not pose a health risk to those around them. But some educators expressed concern about the possibility of contagion by other means, the spokesman said, noting that there is no medical consensus on other ways of transmitting the disease.

Among the educators on the panel are representatives from the state department of education, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the Connecticut Association of School Administrators, the Connecticut Education Association, and the Connecticut State Federation of Teachers.

Also represented are hospital administrators, the pta of Connecticut, and the Department of Children and Youth Services.

Task-force members agree that they must “move as fast as possible” in issuing recommendations on the issue, the spokesman said. The panel was scheduled to meet late last week and to complete its work before the end of the year.

Individual Program

In Florida, where the state health department recommended in June that children with aids be allowed to attend school, officials of the Dade County Public Schools have decided to establish a separate kindergarten program for a set of Haitian triplets with aids-related syndrome.

The officials, concerned that the weakened immune systems of the triplets could make them vulnerable to serious illness from routine contact with other children, originally recommended that the students be tutored at home or in a community center or church, according to Robert Adams, health coordinator for the district. (See Education Week, Sept. 19, 1984.)

But a panel of educators and health officials agreed instead to place the 5-year-old students in a separate program in a school building. ''They will be set up with everything they would have in a regular kindergarten,” Mr. Adams said, “except the other students.”

Mr. Adams said there was some concern by the triplets’ father that the children would be “missing a certain amount of social activities by not being in a regular school situation.” But, he noted, “as far as the Dade County Public Schools are concerned, we are providing the education to these children in the least restrictive environment.”

The placement of the triplets in such a program will continue, Mr. Adams said, “until such time as we can get a stronger recommendation from the health and medical officials that there would be no danger to the children and to other children.” The state health department is continuing to study the issue, he said.

Problems Elsewhere

Mr. Adams also acknowledged that he has received calls from district officials around the country regarding the admission of students with aids. “Obviously it is becoming a problem elsewhere.”

Next month, the University of Miami’s School of Medicine is conducting a two-day conference on pediatric aids. The seminar, which is scheduled to include an examination of the entire range of issues involving children with the disease, will include a session on social issues and child placements, according to Elaine Brainerd, school health-services consultant in the Connecticut Department of Education and cochairman of that state’s panel on aids.

Among those who are expected to attend the conference are officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and from XX states, including Connecticut and Florida, according to Wade Parks, professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami and organizer of the conference.

A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 1984 edition of Education Week as Connecticut Panel To Weigh Admission of AIDS Students to Schools