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A Sensible AIDS Policy

Next week the trustees of the San Diego city schools again will take up the question of allowing students stricken with AIDS to attend class. That the school board is still trying to settle on an appropriate policy a year after first wrestling with the issue is an indication of the wisdom in determining a course of action before one is actually needed. So far, no students or district employees are known to have contracted acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Last year, the board rejected a proposal by Supt. Thomas W. Payzant to consider on a case-by-case basis whether to allow student AIDS victims to continue in the regular school program. Instead, the board voted to look at individual employees who come down with AIDS but to ban from school any student who develops the invariably fatal disease. Now the school district’s AIDS task force is recommending dropping that policy in favor of the individual case approach.

The threat of AIDS is so terrifying that no one can blame school board members for taking a conservative approach to this question. But the medical facts overwhelmingly suggest that most youngsters who contract AIDS can attend normal classes without posing a danger to others.

The national Centers for Disease Control said last year that, out of 204 reported cases of AIDS among children, there were no incidences of the disease passing to siblings. Nor are there known cases of the disease being transmitted in schools, day care facilities or foster homes.

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In addition to the important consideration of doing what is best for a child who comes down with AIDS, there is much to recommend the case-by-case approach. Some pre-schoolers may, in fact, need to be in more restrictive environments because they do not have complete control of their bodily functions or because they are frequent biters. Others in more advanced stages of the disease also may need to be kept from the general school population. But the majority will probably belong in school.

Another factor to consider is whether physicians and parents may conceal an AIDS diagnosis from officials if it will automatically preclude the child’s attending school. And school officials could not possibly know of students who have the AIDS virus--and therefore are “carriers” of the disease--but who are not themselves sick.

The other part of the task force recommendation that is critically important for the board to adopt is for AIDS education. Students, particularly adolescents, must learn to adopt defensive measures against AIDS as part of their life styles even before they know anyone who has the disease. A frank discussion of the ways AIDS is transmitted through sexual and drug-use practices must be included as part of the district’s basic curriculum.

The AIDS task force has done its work carefully and come forth with a responsible policy proposal. The board should adopt it.

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