Twenty-four hours after learning that he won a federal court battle to return to his teaching job although he has AIDS, an emotionally drained Vincent Chalk said he is anxious to begin working Monday on a part-time basis.
"I will continue to fight the disease I have and do the work I'm trained to do," Chalk said Thursday at a press conference at the headquarters of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California. Several ACLU-affiliated attorneys represented Chalk in his four-month legal fight to regain his job after he was barred from the classroom and assigned to a desk job by the Orange County Department of Education.
On Wednesday, a three-judge federal appeals panel ordered the education department to return Chalk to his job as a teacher of deaf junior high and senior high school students. The judges ruled that Chalk "presents no significant risk of harm to others" and that keeping him out of the classroom "subjects him to irreparable injury."
His attorneys heralded the precedent-setting decision as a victory for all those suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome working in federally funded institutions.
Chalk, who lives in Long Beach, said he plans to work about three days a week with students at University High School in Irvine.
"I feel good. I don't want to overdo it when I go back," said Chalk, adding that depending on how he feels he hopes to work back up to a full-time schedule.
Chalk runs the regional occupational program, which offers career counseling to about 130 hearing-impaired teen-agers.
At an earlier press conference in Costa Mesa, Robert Peterson, Orange County superintendent of schools, said the district is glad to have Chalk return. Peterson said that as of Thursday morning he had not received any complaints.
Several other issues, such as attorney fees and damages for Chalk's emotional distress, remain unresolved. And before settling them with Chalk, Peterson said, he wants to review the full written decision of the appellate judges to make sure it "fully covers and protects" the department. He said the department is concerned about being sued by students or parents who might, in the future, claim that they contracted some infectious disease from Chalk.
Keep Officials Informed
While settlement negotiations continue, both sides agreed that Chalk's personal physician will keep school officials informed about his medical condition. Chalk also agreed to have a yearly test for tuberculosis. The tuberculosis test is recommended because sometimes it is one of the opportunistic diseases that often strikes an AIDS victim.
"It's hard to feel real elated when I feel so drained," said Chalk, who returned Thursday from New Mexico, where he was visiting his parents. He said he was "totally devastated" when a federal judge in Los Angeles sided with school officials in barring him from the classroom.
Looking tan and fit, Chalk said he was still taking AZT, a new AIDS drug. "I've been on it for almost a year," Chalk said. "My doctor feels the early symptoms have pretty much gone by the wayside."
Times staff writer Bill Billiter contributed to this story.