I reported yesterday that the Pea Ridge School District believed it had resolved a controversy over its decision to bar three foster children in state custodial care from attending until they had submitted HIV test results. The children’s birth mother and a sibling are HIV-positive, the district indicated it had learned. It has indicated it wanted to know about the three children to prepare suitable education plans because some of the children had behavioral problems.
The children were back in school yesterday. The district has not said explicitly if that signaled the children had submitted HIV test results, but that was the implication, based on the earlier edict and other discussion I had with people involved yesterday. I was assured by one school spokesman that any results would be made available only to people responsible for the children’s care.
None of this sits well with the Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, an advocacy group for the disabled. It has argued from the start that children may not be barred from school if they are HIV positive, so testing a child is unnecessary. All children should be treated in a precautionary fashion when they are behavioral problems, it has said. Today, it issued this release:
Today, Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, Inc. (DRC) issued a demand letter to the Arkansas Department of Human Services addressing the Pea Ridge School District’s recent ultimatum that three students undergo HIV testing before returning to school. The demand letter also urges that the results of the test not be given to the Pea Ridge School District. The release of HIV testing records to school districts by the state is a violation of federal law. Additionally, the Pea Ridge School District’s demand that the student’s test results be received prior to returning to school is a violation of federal law.
“Over the weekend, I was hopeful that the Superintendent and School Board would do the right thing and correct their previous communication to the foster family on requiring HIV test results,” said Tom Masseau, DRC Executive Director. “However, the Superintendent and School Board have continued to demonstrate ignorance of the law by discriminating against children with disabilities. Does the Pea Ridge School District plan to test all students for HIV and collect the results due to certain actions or behaviors that may place the students, teachers, and staff at risk or will the school just require testing the students the school believes might have the virus?”
The demand letter calls upon the Arkansas Department of Human Services, through their Chief Legal Counsel, Mr. Mark White, not to release the results of the test to the school. Action taken by the state to release the test results to Pea Ridge School District will result in a lawsuit filed against the state and school district for federal law violations.
According to the Pea Ridge School District’s website, the school district does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or disability in any of its policies, practices, or procedures.
“DRC finds it ironic that the school has the policy in place, but does not appear to adhere to it” said Masseau.
DRC will continue to pursue all available remedies to ensure that these children are not kept from receiving the education they deserve due to ignorance, fear, and prejudice. …
I’ve sought a comment from DHS.
It says the state, as custodian of the children, is required to give all known information, including disabilities and health information, about them to the school district. It questions, too, the Disability Rights Center’s standing to raise any questions about the children’s handling.