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AIDS Policy Switch by School Trustees : 2 on Board Reverse Votes That Barred Entry to Students With the Fatal Illness

September 03, 1986|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

With only brief debate, San Diego city school trustees Tuesday overturned their 11-month-old policy barring students with AIDS from district classrooms and adopted a case-by-case evaluation of any AIDS victims who might ask to enroll.

The ban was dropped when Trustees Kay Davis and John Witt, who in October voted with the 3-2 majority to approve it, reversed their positions after hearing the testimony of medical experts and the district's own AIDS task force in July. They joined board President Susan Davis and Trustee Dorothy Smith in voting for the new rules.

Kay Davis, who said in October that she "wanted to err on the side of caution," said medical testimony on the near-impossibility of a student contracting acquired immune deficiency syndrome in a school setting had changed her opinion.

"We can now cautiously and safely say, 'Yes, we want to allow them in on a case-by-case basis,' " she said.

Witt, who had asked medical experts some of the most pointed questions during discussion in July, did not speak during the school board's brief review of the issue Tuesday.

Smith added that "the important question for me, as it was a year ago, is: Should all students (with AIDS) be excluded from education in the classroom just because some students need to be? The answer to that question is no."

Only Trustee Larry Lester, who warned his colleagues that they would be "playing Russian roulette" by dropping the ban, voted against the new policy. He said that the chance of contracting AIDS in school is "not a theoretical possibility but a probability," but he acknowledged that the probability is remote.

But Lester asserted that teachers and students are exposed to other students' body fluids in school every day. "What we're dealing with in school is often not casual circumstances," he said.

AIDS, which is invariably fatal, results from a virus that destroys its victims' ability to ward off infection. Transmitted through sexual contact and blood products, it has primarily affected homosexual men and intravenous drug users.

To date, there have been no reported cases of AIDS among students or district employees. But Supt. Thomas Payzant proposed a year ago that the board decide how it would handle such a situation, suggesting that students and workers be allowed to remain in school.

The board rejected that idea and imposed the ban on students, though it approved a case-by-case approach to school district employees after being advised that it might be prohibitively expensive to retire, fire or transfer all workers with AIDS.

Only one child living in San Diego County has been diagnosed as an AIDS victim; that child has died, Dr. Brad Truax, chairman of the San Diego County AIDS task force, said in July.

Under the policy approved Tuesday, 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 an appropriate setting," the policy states.

The new plan also calls for the board to spend $13,000 to teach students about AIDS, beginning as early as the sixth grade.

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