N.Y.C. Parents Boycott Schools To Protest City's AIDS Policy
Parents of some 12,000 students kept their children home from the first day of classes in two New York City school districts last week to protest officials' decision to allow a 2nd-grade student with acquired immune deficiency syndrome to continue attending school.
The boycott followed the announcement by a joint panel of the city's school board and health department that one of four school-age children with aids in the city would be allowed to attend regular classes. The student has attended New York City schools before; his disease is said to be in remission, according to Robert Terte, a spokesman for the board of education.
Although neither the name of the child nor the school he or she is attending has been made public, parents and school officials in districts 27 and 29 urged boycotts last Monday to protest the panel's decision.
"It puts the central board on notice that we are concerned for the welfare of our students and are not satisfied with the information given to us," Dolores Grant, a member of Community School Board 29, was reported as saying on Monday.
Also on Monday, officials in District 27 failed to win a preliminary restraining order barring the student from school. As of late last week, New York Supreme Court Justice Harold Hyman was holding hearings in a suit brought by the Queens district to restrict the pupil from school.
In the two districts, which have combined student enrollments of almost 50,000 in 63 elementary and middle schools, parents picketed into the night. On Tuesday, the number of students listed as absent from school dropped slightly to 10,750, according to city figures. By Wednesday, the figure was down to 8,100, or approximately 16 percent of the total district enrollment. That level of absenteeism is close to what city officials categorize as normal, according to Mr. Terte.
Meanwhile, Schools Chancellor Nathan Quinones announced that eight employees of the school system had contracted aids in the last year. Three of those employees, he said, have died; the other five have taken medical leaves because they are unable to carry out their duties.
Any decisions as to whether these individuals will return to work, he noted, will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Quinones also announced plans to convene a citywide conference on aids. The meeting, the date of which has not yet been set, will provide health officials with the opportunity to train staff members in middle and senior high schools to teach students about the threat aids poses in relation to experimentation with drugs and sex. That information would then be incorporated into existing drug-abuse-prevention and sex-education curricula, he said.
(In California, state education officials are modifying a curriculum guide on sexually transmitted diseases to include information on aids. The booklet is offered to school districts for use in health and sex-education courses.)
Mr. Quinones also announced that the aids placement panel will conduct a monthly review of each case in which a student has been placed in the public schools. That review, he said, will include consultations with the student's case worker and physician and will take into consideration his or her attendance record, rate of progress in school, and family setting.
One Other Admission
In what is apparently the only case besides New York City in which authorities have allowed a student with aids to attend regular classes, district officials in Swansea, Mass., decided to admit an 8th-grade hemophiliac despite protests from some parents.
Officials of the Massachusetts Department of Education, who later distributed statewide guidelines on such cases, were consulted on the decision, according to Jerry Vasconcellos, assistant principal at Case Junior High School, which the boy attends.
In response, two parents withdrew their children from the school, Mr. Vasconcellos said. District officials were scheduled to meet with those parents and others concerned with the arrangements last week to "educate them as to the exact situation here," the assistant principal noted.
Meanwhile, classmates have been supportive of the decision to admit the boy and have even approached the principal about planning a fund-raising drive to raise money for a cure for the disease, Mr. Vasconcellos said.
In related developments:
Commissioner of Education Gordon M. Ambach of New York said this month that all school districts in the state should determine the appropriate educational setting for school-age children with aids on a case-by-case basis.
Such determinations, he said, should be made among school personnel in consultation with physicians, public-health officials, and the child's parents.
In New Jersey, the Attorney General's Office filed petitions with the state education department in an attempt to force the Plainfield and Washington Borough districts to admit two students with aids and a sibling of one of the children.
Officials in the state education department, categorizing the petitions as "premature," began pursuing administrative remedies set forth under new state guidelines, according to Maureen Sczpanski, a spokesman for the department.