Officials at Pennsylvania's Milton Hershey school, a private boarding school for disadvantaged, low-income students, refused a student admission last year solely because he was HIV-positive. Known under the pseudonym Abraham Smith, the teen was seen by the boarding school as a "threat to the health and safety of others."
The AIDS advocacy and human rights communities did not stand idly by, and on Monday, their efforts finally paid off. Milton Hershey School issued an apology to Abraham and stated they will "no longer refuse admission to otherwise qualified students who have HIV." They offered the teen a place at the school starting this fall, and according to the Associated Press, he is considering whether he will attend or not.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation was one of the organizations that led the charge against the school and candymaker Hershey Company, which basically funds the school via a trust that maintains a controlling interest in the company. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation launched a website called End HIV Stigma and held protests in places such as Hershey's corporate offices and Time Square. A lawsuit was also filed against the Milton Hershey School for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told TakePart the decision to allow HIV-positive students into Milton Hershey School "is a historic victory" and a "blow against HIV stigma and discrimination."
When the school made the decision not to allow Abraham in because of his medical condition, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation didn't hesitate to take action. It was "a glaring act of discrimination against an innocent boy. It couldn't go unchallenged," said Weinstein.
Milton Hershey School President Dr. Anthony Colistra explained on Monday why they reversed the decision:
Although we believed that our decisions regarding Abraham Smith's application were appropriate, we acknowledge that the application of federal law to our unique residential setting was a novel and difficult issue. The U.S. Department of Justice recently advised us that it disagrees with how we evaluated the risks and applied the law. We have decided to accept this guidance.
"Hershey is an iconic company and it took a very hardball stand," Weinstein said. "They said they wouldn't under any circumstance back down." Weinstein expressed his enthusiasm that the school did finally back down.
"AIDS is a moral litmus test," he said. "It has been since the beginning, and it will continue to be until it ends. Anybody who is on the wrong side of it is on the wrong side of history."
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Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com