ATASCADERO, Calif. — A 5-year-old AIDS victim who was kicked out of school after biting a classmate was escorted back to kindergarten Tuesday, the winner of a federal court battle.
Ryan Thomas was led through a swarm of reporters and camera crews into the Santa Rosa Road Elementary School to rejoin his classmates at 8:45 a.m., school secretary Lauren Anderson said.
Ryan was nervous at first but adjusted quickly after his parents, Robin and Judy Thomas, grandfather Willard Thomas and brothers Richard, 9, and Robert, 7, accompanied him to class. His brothers attend the same school.
"We're pretty drained," Robin Thomas said afterward. "It's harder having Ryan in school, worrying about what he's doing, than having him here (at home) with us. But it was well worth it getting him back in school."
"It was much harder on Judy and I than it was on him," he said.
Ryan, who contracted acquired immune deficiency syndrome through a blood transfusion when he was an infant, stayed in school 2 1/2 hours Tuesday, he said. The boy's physical condition is good, his father says.
Thomas, who said publicity about Ryan cost him his job as a home weather-stripper and insulator, hopes to sell the rights to Ryan's story for a movie and book.
"We are pleased that the situation is resolved and Ryan's back to school," Atascadero Unified School District Supt. Anthony Avina said Tuesday. "We didn't have to make a lot of special arrangements. We kept the class intact and hope this will be a quality experience."
There are 19 students in Ryan's class. Principal Chuck Wilbur said three children, including a fifth-grader and two kindergartners, have been removed from the school by their parents. The school has about 720 students.
"Just one of the kindergartners was removed a few hours (after school began)," Wilbur said Tuesday, adding that neither kindergartner was in Ryan's class.
The school district removed Ryan from class after he bit another student on the leg in September. Ryan was readmitted after U.S. District Judge Alice Marie Stotler in Los Angeles granted an injunction on Nov. 17 barring district officials from keeping him out of school. The ruling was the first federal court decision on the rights of children with AIDS to attend school.
Stotler ruled that medical evidence presented to her indicated that "bites cannot convey this particular, awful, tragic disease."