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Judges Must Confront AIDS Facts

October 04, 1987

It is a well accepted medical fact that AIDS cannot be transmitted by casual contact. Federal judges must not overlook that next month when they review the case of Vincent Chalk, the Irvine schoolteacher who wants to return to the classroom to teach deaf children.

Chalk has been teaching handicapped children for 13 years, and he does it well. But earlier this year Chalk learned that he has acquired immune deficiency syndrome. When his employer, the Orange County Department of Education, found out, it assigned him to desk duties and refused to allow him back in the classroom, despite the insistence of health and disease control experts that Chalk poses no threat to the health of the students--or anyone else. Chalk sued to get his teaching job back.

Earlier this month a federal judge, breaking with other rulings allowing children exposed to the AIDS virus to return to class, refused to allow Chalk back in the classroom because he was unsure of the extent of the health risk.

It was a curious ruling. The risk of transmitting AIDS in the classroom is really no different if the patient is a student or a teacher. And there is no medical evidence that AIDS has ever been, or can be, transmitted through casual contact or in a classroom situation.

Last Tuesday a federal appeals court in San Francisco decided to speed up resolution of the case and ordered a new hearing early next month. It's up to the judges to determine whether Chalk's civil rights and laws protecting handicapped people from job discrimination are being violated. If the county department, no matter how well intentioned, can't provide more medical evidence to prove that Chalk is a health threat, he should be allowed to return to teaching. Anything less would be discrimination based, as usual, on fear and ignorance.

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