An Irvine schoolteacher with AIDS, who is suing the Orange County Department of Education to retain his classroom job, called a press conference Tuesday to discuss his case and reluctantly revealed his identity.
At first, Vincent Chalk, 42, declined to give his name. But he agreed to do so after the television and newspaper reporters attending the press conference complained that it was hypocritical of him to allow his picture to be taken and broadcast if he was trying to remain anonymous.
Chalk, who has been a teacher for 13 years, has worked for the county department for seven years. Last year, he taught hearing-impaired students at Venado Middle School and University High School in Irvine.
In February, he contracted pneumonia. Further medical tests revealed that Chalk, an admitted homosexual, had AIDS.
Chalk said he and his doctor reported his illness to his supervisors and later to Dr. Thomas Prendergast, chief of the county Health Care Agency's disease control unit. Prendergast subsequently said Chalk poses no health threat to students or others.
Despite that opinion, county education officials decided that Chalk should leave the classroom and work at home, doing things such as writing grant proposals for the department. Chalk objected and filed suit seeking an injunction that would allow him to remain in the classroom.
The county Education Department then asked the court for a ruling on whether Chalk has a right to return to work.
"It's important to me on a civil rights basis," said Chalk, who lives in Long Beach. "I am well enough to go back into the classroom."
He said he believes that his students will be in no danger of contracting the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus because current medical evidence shows AIDS cannot be transmitted by casual contact.
"It is because of my concern for students that I want to be there," Chalk said, adding that "teaching is a way I can keep my mind off the disease."
Marjorie Rushforth, Chalk's attorney, said county Education Department officials agreed to move Chalk's case from Orange County Superior Court to federal court to expedite a decision on the case before classes begin in September. The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California is cooperating with her in the case.
On Monday, Rushforth filed documents requesting a federal court hearing in Los Angeles on Aug. 31.
"This is the first litigation of its kind in the nation," Rushforth said. She said the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided that federal anti-discrimination laws protect people with AIDS.