DOWNEY — Trustees for the Downey Unified School District have agreed to vote next month on guidelines for admission of children with AIDS. The proposed guidelines would allow a committee to judge each case individually before deciding where to place the child.
The Downey board is the first in the Southeast area to review formal guidelines concerning students with the disease. Only a handful of parents attended the meeting on the guidelines Monday and none spoke for or against the proposal.
Supt. Manuel Gallegos said that parents can continue to submit their views to the district before the vote, scheduled for Nov. 4.
Board member Mark Morris called the recommendations "something the community can get behind and support." The guideline plan, he said, "won't be worth anything if parents don't support it."
Approached by Parents
Morris said he initiated the proposal in June after he and other board members were approached by parents who asked what the district would do if a child with acquired immune deficiency syndrome wanted to enroll.
"People are on both sides of the issue," Morris said in an interview. "I see it becoming a very emotional situation. We wanted to make sure the board (had) guidelines while there was no pressure to do so."
Gallegos said no student with AIDS has applied for admission to the school district.
Under the guidelines, the parents of a child with AIDS requesting admission would be required to submit signed statements from the child's physician and the county Health Department that state there would be no risk to classmates. The request would be forwarded for review to a placement committee composed of the school principal, district nurse, a teacher and the child's parents.
If the committee determined that the physical condition of the child were such that transmission of the disease would be likely, the child could be denied permission to attend a regular classroom and placed in an alternative education program, such as independent study and home teaching.
In proposing guidelines before the district is approached by parents seeking to admit a child with AIDS, the board sought to avoid controversy like that touched off on the East Coast, where parents boycotted classes in New York after a student with AIDS was allowed to attend school and where two districts, in Trenton and Washington Borough, N.J., banned children with AIDS. (The Washington Borough District agreed to readmit a student after the state Health and Education departments overruled the bans and ordered the children admitted.)
The proposal will also serve as guidelines for admission of students afflicted with other contagious diseases, Deputy Supt. A. H. Shiney said.
Shiney, who wrote the proposal, said the guidelines are based on medical information provided by the national Centers for Disease Control, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center, the county Health Department and the California Department of Health Services.
The Centers for Disease Control reported that "casual person-to-person contact appears to pose no risk" with the exception of the preschool-aged child, some neurologically handicapped children who lack control of their body secretions, children who display behavior such as persistent biting and those children who have uncoverable, oozing lesions, Shiney said.
The case-by-case review would allow the placement committee to remain flexible and take the needs of the child and the student body into consideration, Shiney said.
AIDS is spread by exposure to bodily secretions through such means as sexual contact, shared hypodermic needles and blood transfusions. The fatal disease destroys the body's immune system, leaving it defenseless against infection.
Dr. Betty Agee, chief of acute communicable disease control for Los Angeles County, said there are currently no school-aged children identified as AIDS patients in county schools but three preschool cases in the county have been reported.
The two-edged issue facing school boards--the obligation to provide an education and the responsibility to protect students--has prompted several school districts in California to discuss proposals for admission of students with AIDS. Susie Lange, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said one district--San Diego Unified--defeated a proposal to allow students and employees with AIDS to remain in school until medical data is more conclusive.
The department is to issue advisory guidelines on admission of students with AIDS in November that school boards can adopt or use as a model for their own guidelines, Lange said. She added that, statewide, five cases of schoolchildren with AIDS have been reported.