School districts that developed policies a year or more ago regarding students and employees with AIDS may need to update those policies, a lawyer told school officials Wednesday.
As information about the nature of the disease accumulates, policies should change to reflect the latest data, said Brinton Burbidge, legal counsel for the Utah School Boards Association.
He spoke during a conference involving school superintendents, school board members and others who deal with AIDS policy at the school level. Several meetings concerning AIDS were on the agenda this week as schools prepared to implement an AIDS curriculum developed by the state school board. Teachers who will incorporate the curriculum into health studies also met Wednesday as Murray School District hosted a training seminar.
Also Wednesday, the Utah Health Department's AIDS Advisory Committee passed its Human Immunodeficiency Virus School Policy, which has been under evaluation for several months.
The policy stresses that information concerning the status of an infected student or employee must be held in strict confidence and that no infected person can be discriminated against.
The policy calls for the establishment of a three-member review committee _ made up of the school administrator, a representative of the local health department and a physician. They, in conjunction with the infected student's parents or the employee, will determine if he/she is at risk to other students. The school administration will also advise the student's parents or the employee of the potential risk of infection to the student in the school environment.
The school administrator will determine if the student or employee will be permitted to remain in the regular classroom or job assignment or be placed in an alternative program.
The committee's policy now goes Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, health department executive director. If it passes administrative rules making, it will be a policy for Utah schools to follow.
School districts can implement a stricter policy but not one that is more lenient.
A well-thought-out policy that balances the rights of AIDS patients against those with whom they come in contact should guide school-related responses to the disease, Burbidge told administrators.
Such policy protects the due process rights of patients and protects the districts against potential legal problems.
Early policies were based on misunderstanding of the AIDS virus and how it is spread, Burbidge said. "Steps were taken _ Draconian in some instances _ based on public hysteria," he said.
Since then, it has been determined that the virus is not spread through casual contact and patients cannot be discriminated against without evidence that their presence in schools poses a genuine health threat to others.
Good policies based on today's best information provide a review process for a child or adult known to be infected by the HIV virus or to have full-blown AIDS, Burbidge said. Panels involving people with competent knowledge about the disease are usually asked to review the individual case and make recommendations to the school district regarding the presence of the patient in a school.
Such panels should include a doctor, representatives of the district, the patient, parents and someone to represent the patient's interests. The panel should consider how AIDS affects the individual's ability to learn or perform required work as well as the risk to uninfected people who would be exposed to the disease.
State Epidemiologist Craig R. Nichols told the school officials that Utah has had four cases of AIDS involving children under 13 and one in the 13-to 19-year-old category. Some of these children, and others who are HIV-positive _ a precursor to AIDS _ have been in schools, he said.