Farsighted AIDS Policy

Across the country, school boards are facing the agonizing decision of what to do about students or employees who contract AIDS. The horrible thought of a child being infected with acquired immune deficiency syndrome at school causes such fear that in some parts of the country it has turned into what appears to be contempt for the victims.

The Coronado school district last week became the first public school system in the county to ban the admission of students with AIDS. The board took the interim action until a permanent policy, which probably will order case-by-case determinations, can be adopted.

Like Coronado, the board and administration of the San Diego Unified School District have wisely chosen to confront the issue by adopting a policy on AIDS now, before being faced with a student or employee who has the disease. The policy proposed by Supt. Thomas W. Payzant is a sound one, keeping preschoolers with AIDS out of school but allowing the superintendent to admit those from kindergarten up on a case-by-case basis. Among the deciding factors are whether a child is incontinent or is considered a risk to bite other people. The board is expected to vote on the proposal next week.

In reaching its decision, the board should take a hard look at the facts--and the unknowns--and try to keep emotion in proper perspective. The facts are that researchers from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and others who have studied the problem have yet to find a case of one child transmitting the disease to another. That includes siblings and cases in which a child may have unknowingly had the AIDS virus for several years before coming down with the disease. Unfortunately, the disease remains mysterious enough that there are no unqualified guarantees concerning its transmission. But until there is evidence that AIDS can be transmitted by some type of casual contact and not just through sexual activity and the exchange of blood, the school board is not justified in denying a young victim the opportunity to lead as normal a life as possible, or an employee the right to work. Along with this policy, the schools should adopt an educational program emphasizing hygiene, including warnings against mingling blood, as young “blood brothers” might do.

As this decision is being made, and in the awful event that an adult or child in a local school district should contract AIDS, we hope the community will respond with its best instincts, not its worst. The policy as now drafted provides adequate flexibility for the superintendent to respond to the specifics of a given situation and to react to changes in our knowledge of AIDS. The threat is so frightening that the strong emotions among parents over the disease are entirely understandable. Nevertheless, it would be a shame to see repeated here the vilification of the innocent that has occurred elsewhere.