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Superintendent Looks at AIDS

August 30, 1987

Your editorial "AIDS Case Unveils Ignorance" (Aug. 23) requires some further information to help reduce the ignorance.

Presently there are medical people making statements on opposite sides of key questions concerning various aspects of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome problem.

For example, a qualified physician has recently been quoted: "There is a risk of transmission of the AIDS virus by means other than blood, semen and vaginal fluids as well as by these in ways which have not been determined. In addition, AIDS patients are more susceptible to infection, and there is a greater risk than in the general population that the AIDS patient will act as a carrier of these infectious diseases."

School districts and their students, parents, taxpayers and staff members are all going to be affected by the decisions made as the AIDS problem increases.

It is important to be as compassionate as possible for the victims of AIDS. It is even more necessary for schools to always give first priority to the safety and welfare of the students and the staff.

In order to provide all those involved with their rights and responsibilities, a request was made to the Superior Court to render a declaratory finding.

Such a judicial order will tell us either that we must or that we must not allow an AIDS-infected person to perform services in a public classroom where attendance is compulsory.

The court needs to be asked other important questions. For example: Is it legal to continue to provide a salary to the teacher with AIDS who is excluded from the classroom? Some interpretations may consider such payments as a gift of public funds and therefore illegal.

With the early involvement of the courts, the likelihood of lawsuits by parents, by staff members, by other educational entities or by others will be diminished.

What your editorial writer needs to appreciate are the vast liabilities that schools face when a teacher with AIDS is officially permitted to teach.

The incubation period for AIDS can be as long as seven years. This means that a seven-year span of vulnerability exists. Parents whose children develop AIDS through an unknown cause may take legal action against the school with the claim that their child was infected because of the actions of the AIDS-carrying teacher.

At some point during or following the five- to seven-year incubation period, staff members who become AIDS victims from an unknown cause may sue the school because of job-related contact with the infected teacher.

With all the known and uncertain hazards related to AIDS, it was reasonable to request a judicial decision. Therefore, such a request was made of the Superior Court.

ROBERT PETERSON

County Superintendent

of Schools

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