The state Health Department's AIDS Advisory Committee wants some changes made in a policy that all school districts could be required to follow when a student or an employee is found to have AIDS or tests positive for the AIDS virus.
The proposed policy would allow a committee comprised of a physician, a school administrator and a member of the local health department to determine whether a student or school employee who has acquired immune deficiency syndrome or has tested positively for the AIDS virus can stay in the classroom or on the job, according to Scott Hess. Hess is a state Office of Education official and chairman of the committee's School-age Children Subcommittee.During the review of a subcommittee report Wednesday night, committee members expressed support for most of the policy's provisions but wanted a more detailed explanation of the disease given to school districts along with the policy.
In addition, Jeffrey Burkhardt, chairman of the board of trustees of AIDS Project Utah, said that he did not like wording that allows a review committee to decide what circumstances in a school would "compromise" the health of an employee or student. Such wording could allow school administrators to dismiss an employee infected by AIDS by simply saying that the school environment poses a risk and avoid discrimination issues, committee member Ken Winsness said.
The policy was referred back to the subcommittee.
The proposed policy says a student or employee would be evaluated by the three-person board for risks the school environment poses to the individual and the risk the person poses to others, Hess said. If it is found there are unacceptable risks, the review board could recommend an alternative job or learning program.
While about 16 Utah school districts already have AIDS-related policies, Hess said it is the responsibility of the state Health Department to create such policies. The department will likely ask the State School Board to require that all school districts use the policy health officials develop.
"There has been some confusion among school districts about who is responsible for policies. It is the responsibility of the Department of Health to develop its own policies," Hess said.
The proposed policy doesn't make it clear whether school boards would have the right to overturn review-board decisions, merely use the board's decision as a recommendation or be excluded from the decisions altogether.
Some of Hess' concerns with policies already adopted by some school districts include a requirement that teachers be notified if students in their classes have AIDS or parents' inclusion on the review board. He said federal law allows the identity of infected students and employees to be disclosed only to members of the review committee.
Many of the state's school boards are waiting for the state Health Department recommendations so they can adopt policies before the beginning of the new school year in the fall, said Brett Lazar, director of the Division of Community Health Services.