Pennsylvania Record

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Milton Hershey School apologizes to HIV-positive student suing because he was denied admittance

By Jon Campisi | Aug 8, 2012

A young teenager whose mother filed suit on his behalf late last year against the Milton

Hershey School in central Pennsylvania has received an apology from the school’s president, who stated it was wrong for the private school to have denied the boy admittance based on his HIV-positive status.

The AIDS Law Project had filed a lawsuit, which was previously reported on by the Pennsylvania Record, back in November 2011, alleging that the boy, who was identified by a pseudonym, “Abraham Smith,” in the lawsuit, was denied a chance at attending the boarding school because he has the virus that causes AIDS.

School officials had said they were concerned because some students at the school have sex, or could potentially have sex, and they worried about the dangers of having a youth on campus with HIV.

While the matter is currently the subject of ongoing litigation at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Milton Hershey president Anthony Colistra issued a statement on Aug. 6 saying that the incident has caused the school to learn from its past mistakes and alter its policies.

“Milton Hershey School will no longer refuse admission to otherwise qualified students who have HIV,” he said in the statement, which was provided to the Pennsylvania Record.

Colistra went on to say that he extended to the plaintiff’s son the opportunity to enroll in the school despite the past denial.

The president said the school is now issuing a new “equal opportunity policy” stating that the school treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants.

Colistra said the institution is also developing and providing mandatory training for staff and students on HIV issues and expanding its current training on “universal precautions.”

In his statement, Colistra goes on to say that it’s the school’s mission to help those children in need, and he, as a graduate of the school, wants to ensure that other students have the opportunity to become a part of the school’s unique community.

“I want Abraham Smith to have that experience, if he still so desires,” Colistra said.

“Although we believed that our decisions regarding Abraham Smith’s application were appropriate, we acknowledge that the application of federal law to our unique residential setting was a novel and difficult issue,” the statement continues. “The U.S. Department of Justice recently advised us that it disagrees with how we evaluated the risks and applied the law. We have decided to accept this guidance.”

Colistra goes on to say that he “publicly extend[s] a heartfelt apology to him [Smith] and to his family for the impact of our initial decision,” as he did in a private letter in mid July.

“We hope to welcome this young man to our School family in the near future,” he concludes.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Ronda Goldfein, told the Philadelphia Inquirer Tuesday that her client has not yet decided whether or not to accept the school’s offer to have him enroll.

“They said he was a threat to everybody,” Goldfein told the newspaper. “He has to do a lot of thinking about that.”

As for the ongoing litigation, the court docket shows that a status conference has been set for Sept. 19 at the federal court in Philadelphia, where the matter is playing out.

The judge overseeing the matter, C. Darnell Jones, II, ordered the parties to commence discovery just prior to the proceedings, known as a Rule 16 conference.

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