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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 9/17/13

Ryan White Is Alive And Well And Living In Arkansas: What The Pea Ridge School Incident Tells Us About HIV Discriminatio

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Some thing don't change, do they Ryan?
Some thing don't change, do they Ryan?
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Update: School District Responds - sort of.

        "The   actions taken by the Superintendent of Pea Ridge School Distric t are appalling and is reminiscent of times past and the case of Ryan White," says Tom Masseau, Executive Director of DRC. "The fact that the foster families have to provide documentation that the children are HIV negative before entering the school is unlawful."

Yes, Ryan White is alive and living in Pea Ridge, Arkansas.  

But this time, the ignorance of a school district involves three siblings (two of which have special needs) and two foster parents: all three were prevented from going to school because of lack of proof of HIV status after discovering that their birth mother and one of the siblings had HIV.  

The Disabilities Center of Arkansas has gone on record as stating that the action of the district is unlawful. The district neither confirms nor denies the actions - they are, of course, consulting with attorneys at this point. While the Arkansas Department of Education allows schools to prevent children from attending with "communicable diseases," HIV has long been declassified as such by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

Ignorance At Large
The situation in Pea Ridge proves that as far as HIV is concerned, ignorance is still at large. It is the kind of ignorance at the base of horrendous discrimination and abuse abroad (such as Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill). It is certainly at large with people like Pat Robertson, who recently said that some gays have special "handshake rings" to transmit HIV. 

The results of the ignorance may have just started: one of the siblings has missed playing in the season's first football game. But he and the other kids may miss much more in the future because of the ignorance: privacy, peer acceptance, self-esteem. They may be bullied endlessly. They may miss their former life - indeed the family might have to move, or at least relocate the children to another district.  

"Actions and Behaviors"

To date, the response of the Pea Ridge school district is as vague as all of the current info on the situation:

       "As reported in the media, the district has recently required some students to provide test results regarding their HIV status in order to formulate a safe and appropriate education plan for those children. This rare requirement is due to certain actions and behaviors that place students and staff at risk. The district respects the privacy and confidentiality of all students. It's is very unfortunate that information regarding this situation is being released by outside organizations."

Some key points have not been cleared up, so now additional questions arise: what are the disabilities of the two special needs kids? What are the ages of the siblings? Their sex? If they're in middle or high school, were they having sex with any kids/teachers? "Actions and behaviors" makes it sound like the suspended children were engaging in sexual contact in the hallways.  

Evidently, the foster parents were never informed as to any suspicions on the part of the district.

Suspicion. Suspicions and assumptions may be what this situation is all about: the district may actually have suspicions founded on very real evidence which they cannot divulge to the media. But the foster parents should have been told of those suspicions.  

Acting on mere suspicions can be just as wrong as outright bigotry.  

To date, the outcry continues, the family faces grueling notoriety and the school district wrestles with disclosure of the entire case.  

Welcome to the Ryan White case of the 21st century. Have things changed that much?




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Rev. Dan Vojir is has been writing/blogging on religion and politics for the better part of ten years. A former radio talk show host (Strictly Books éČ" Talk America Radio Network) and book publisher, Dan has connected with some of the most (more...)
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