Justice Department Settles with Pennsylvania School for $715,000 for Excluding a Child with HIV

On September 12, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania have reached a settlement with the Milton Hershey School (School) of Hershey, Pa to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Milton Hershey School is a private residential school that is open year-round and serves children with demonstrated social and financial needs. In April 2011 Abraham Smith (a pseudonym) applied for admission to the School’s 8th grade class. Abraham is a boy with HIV, which is a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including the operation of Abraham’s immune system. Thus, Abraham has a disability under the ADA. Abraham provided  information to the School that was required in the application process. Included in that information were documents that disclosed that Abraham had HIV.

The School responded by informing his mother through a letter that stated Abraham Smith “will not be considered for possible enrollment” and “[a]fter a review of the information, it has been determined that [Abraham's] documented needs are beyond the scope of the Milton Hershey school programs. Specifically, we are unable to meet his needs in a residential setting.” Abraham’s mother contacted the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania (ALPP) which contacted the School to, again, request his admission. In its response to the ALPP,  the School acknowledged that it had not processed Abraham’s application because he has HIV. The ALPP then filed suit.

The School responded in its answer to the lawsuit and an investigation by the DOJ that it believed Abraham posed a potential risk to other students at the School. The DOJ rejected that defense, determining that Abraham or other children with HIV did not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others and the School violated the ADA by rejecting him for admission.

The Settlement Agreement requires the School to pay $700,000 to Abraham and his mother. It also requires the School to adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination and requiring equal opportunity for students with disabilities, including students with HIV. Additionally, the School must provide training to staff and administrators on the requirements of the ADA. Finally, the School must pay a civil penalty of $15,000 to the United States.

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