Milton Hershey School Has Change of Heart, Offers Spot To HIV-Positive Teen

HIV-positive boy initially rejected from boarding school is considering offer.

ByABC News
August 7, 2012, 9:36 AM

Aug. 7, 2012— -- A private boarding school in Hershey, Pa., has offered a spot to a teen who was denied entry last year because he is HIV-positive.

"Milton Hershey School will no longer refuse admission to otherwise qualified students who have HIV," school president Anthony Colistra said.

Colistra said the school offered the ninth-grade student a place for fall classes in a private letter sent to the boy and his mother July 12.

The teen, who is suing the school for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes HIV in its scope, is considering the offer, his lawyer said.

Despite the school's change of heart, the lawsuit is still moving forward, said Ronda Goldfein, who represents the teen. He is not mentioned by name in the lawsuit.

"We're certainly delighted that the school understands their obligations under the law and intends to follow them," Goldfein told ABC News' Philadelphia affiliate. "This case is not settled. This is one very important piece of it."

The teen said he never thought that being HIV-positive would hinder his acceptance to the school.

"I thought I would get into the school, because of the type of student and person I am," he told ABC News in a written interview through his lawyer last year.

As a result of the school's decision, he added, "my life has turned into fear, anger, confusion and tears."

The school said initially said that its residential setting and the risk of sexual activity made the teen too much of a "threat."

"I don't see the direct threat," the boy told ABC News, which has not named him because he is a minor. "In my home we respect what my mother tells us to do. ... We come straight home from school, do homework, chores and do things as a family unit. Isn't that what Milton Hershey school is supposed to be about, but with a great educational environment? I guess not?!"

School spokeswoman Connie McNamara told last year that the boy's HIV status was a "direct threat."

"We had to balance his rights and interests with our obligation to provide for the health and safety of other students," she said. "And this meets a direct threat."

She said the school was most worried the boy would have sex, if not now, at some point in his future years at the school, where students in groups of 10 to 12 live together in on-campus housing.

"Our kids are no different than teenagers anywhere else," she said last year. "Despite encouraging abstinence, we cannot be 100 percent certain our kids are not engaging in sexual activity."

Milton Hershey said it will issue a new equal-opportunity policy "stating that the school treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants."

The school is also developing mandatory training for staff and students on HIV issues, according to a statement issued Monday.

The Milton Hershey School was founded in 1909 by the chocolate magnate whose name it bears. The school was originally intended to house white male orphans, but now has a diverse student body hailing from across the United States.

Students must come from low-income families in order to be considered for admission.