The Davis County Board of Education Tuesday night narrowly approved a policy requiring students and employees to tell officials if they have AIDS, even though the state health program specialist expects the policy to be overruled by a proposed State Health Department policy.
The policy, passed by a 3-2 vote, requires a team composed of a doctor, county health worker, parent, teacher, principal and the school's director of special education to review each student case. If an employee is involved, the panel would only include a doctor, county health worker and worker's supervisor.A proposed health department policy, however, is expected to be adopted before school begins and does not include the controversial mandatory notification clause and only calls for a three-member review team.
If that policy goes into effect it would invalidate the new Davis policy and policies adopted by 20 other school districts in the state, according to Scott Hess, specialist for health programs at the State Office of Education.
"If the health department mandates a policy on communicable diseases, then the local districts are by law required to follow the policy," Hess said.
Jeff Burkhardt, an attorney for the Salt Lake AIDS Foundation and member of the health department's AIDS Advisory Committee, which is drafting the state policy, told board members Tuesday they were "opening a can of legal worms" by adopting the mandatory reporting provision.
"There is no reason for this policy. There has been no evidence that persons in casual contact have contracted AIDS. You are bringing on yourself a terrible burden," Burkhardt said.
The policy says if someone besides those infected reported the disease, the employee or student's parents would be asked for confirmation. However, if they denied the existence of the disease or claimed they had not tested positive for the AIDS virus, then the issue would be moot.
Board Member Henry Heath said that in that case a physician or health worker should be asked for confirmation. But board members rejected that idea, noting it would likely violate doctor-patient privilege.
Heath also suggested the district study requiring testing for all student athletes during physical exams required for sports participation. The board took no action on the suggestion.
Burkhardt said the district policy will make confidentiality difficult because of the number of people who would be asked to keep the AIDS infection secret.
"You are keeping confidentiality with the whole town," Burdkhardt said.
He reminded board members how a Florida town reacted when it learned that three hemophiliac sons of the Ray family infected with AIDS were suspended from school. Their home was gutted by a suspicious fire. Now the family is suing the school district and individual school board members.
Superintendent Richard Kendell said he believed the policy would treat students fairly and emphasizes keeping children infected with AIDS in school. He said the spirit of the policy is one of cooperation.
The district runs a greater risk without having an AIDS policy, he said.
"This is a beginning and it may have to be modified," Kendell said. "We need to balance the need for information and rights of privacy. Maybe the line we have drawn is not in the right place, but it is in a reasonable place."
A representative of the Davis Education Association asked board members to clarify what protection the policy offers if teachers report fellow employees or students have AIDS. The association believes that information should also be kept confidential.