San Diego city school trustees should drop their 9-month-old ban on allowing students with AIDS into city classrooms and should evaluate each child's case individually, a task force appointed by the school board recommended Tuesday.
The 20-member panel also urged the Board of Education to approve a $13,000 program to teach students about acquired immune deficiency syndrome, beginning as early as the sixth grade.
Trustees are scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday.
In October, the trustees decided by a 3-2 vote to educate AIDS victims outside city schools but unanimously agreed to judge employees infected with the fatal disease individually because it could be illegal or expensive to extend the ban to them.
To date, there have been no reported cases of AIDS among students or district employees. But Supt. Thomas Payzant proposed in September that the board decide how it would handle such a case, suggesting, on the advice of medical consultants, that students and workers be allowed to remain in school.
The board rejected that idea and later approved the student ban. It also agreed to create the task force, which after months of research urged the trustees to overturn their initial decision.
Dr. Michele Ginsberg, a county epidemiologist, told board members that children are the least likely segment of the population to be infected with AIDS and that the rare child who is born with the disease would probably not survive until school age.
The disease, she emphasized, is transmitted only by sexual contact or exchange of blood products. No one has received it through "intact skin contact or mucosal contact," and only two health care workers, who often come in contact with the secretions of AIDS patients, have ever been infected.
"Transmission does not occur through casual contact, such as occurs in the work place and in the classroom," Ginsberg said.
Byron Halling, a task force member who has a daughter in the city schools, concurred.
"I feel that my daughter is not at risk by being in contact with another child who has this disease," he said. "In fact, I feel that any other calamity is a greater risk to her than AIDS.
"My research shows that you can't kiss and get it, you can't cry in each other's eyes and get it, you can't hug and get it, and you can't do all the things kids do and get it."
According to Dr. Jeff Black, the district's medical consultant, "the overwhelming majority" of U.S. school districts do not restrict AIDS victims' access to classrooms, and many authoritative health organizations agree with that policy.
Three speakers during public hearings also asked the board to reverse its policy.
As of the end of June, roughly 22,000 Americans had contracted AIDS, which is invariably fatal. In San Diego, 249 residents have come down with the disease, and 132 have died, according to county public health statistics. An additional 88 non-residents have been treated for AIDS at county health facilities, and at least 55 of them have died.
Only one child living in San Diego County has been diagnosed as an AIDS victim, and that child has died, said Dr. Brad Truax, chairman of the San Diego County AIDS task force.
Under the new proposal, Payzant would decide how to educate a student with AIDS based on the "age, behavior, neurologic development, and physical condition of the child, and the health and safety of others." He would review the case with the district's medical consultant, public health experts, parents and school officials.
"Children whose uncoverable oozing skin lesions, incontinence or oral behavior could increase the theoretical risk of transmission shall be provided an appropriate education in appropriate setting," the recommended policy states.
Board members Larry Lester and John Witt, who voted for the ban in October, appeared skeptical of the new recommendation. They peppered medical experts with questions on the probability of an AIDS victim enrolling in city schools and the possibility of unknown methods of transmission. Witt also questioned school district lawyers about potential liability if a student contracted AIDS.