Waking up in the morning and going to school is currently not an option for three Arkansas Pea Ridge Public School students. The three students were barred from attending school based on the suspicion that they may be HIV-positive. School district officials reviewing records over the summer found a health evaluation of one of the students that stated that his or her birth-sister and birth-mother were both HIV-positive, local Arkansas outlet 5NEWS reports. The three siblings are currently living with a foster family; it is currently not yet clear the gender of all three children.
School administrators met on Monday, September 9 and informed the student's health service provider that the three siblings could not return to the school until proper documentation could be provided that ensured they were all HIV negative. The children's foster parents were notified of Pea Ridge School District’s decision to, and were asked to not send the students to school, according to the press release from The Disability Rights Center (DRC) of Arkansas. The foster family knew their rights and sent their kids to school the next day anyway only to be told my school officials the three siblings must be picked up.
“The fact that the foster families have to provide documentation that the children are HIV negative before entering the school is unlawful and immoral,” said Tom Masseau, executive director of DRC in a press release. "It stigmatizes individuals with disabilities or their “perceived” disabilities as there is no indication these individuals have HIV. There is only an unlawful fear that they do."
Currently, two of the children have significant sensory processing issues and become overwhelmed very easily. The symptoms of their sensory overstimulation may include self-hitting, scratching others, and biting both themselves and others. One of the boys is only allowed to attend school for two hours a day due to his symptoms. The press release states the foster family has been called on several occasions to pick up the children from school when these learning disabilities occur because the school has limited support for them.
The oldest sibling out of the three was reportedly denied from competing in his first football game of the year because of the letter that requested the siblings provide documentation in regards to their HIV status.
The Pea Ridge School District released a statement on Monday, September 16, confirming that they require the siblings to provide documentation of their HIV status, the NWAhomepage.com reports. The statement read:
“As reported in the media, the district has recently required some students to provide test results regarding their HIV status in order to formulate a safe and appropriate education plan for those children. This rare requirement is due to certain actions and behaviors that place students and staff at risk.”
In the letter district superintendent Rick Neal gave to the family, he cites a policy from the Arkansas School Board Association that allegedly supports his reasoning for banning the three siblings. The school board policy states schools can bar students with communicable diseases, the Huffington Post reports.
A communicable disease is a disease that can spread from one person to another or from an animal to a person usually through airborne viruses or bacteria, or through blood and other bodily fluid. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), HIV is no longer a communicable disease of public health significance.
The DRC is in the process of reviewing all possible courses of action to ensure the three siblings will return to the Pea Ridge Public School. The organization has also intended to for the Superintendent and the School Board to receive sensitivity training on disability issues.