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The Pea Ridge School District violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2013 by excluding some students until they were tested for the human immunodeficiency virus, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The district removed three students, all foster children, from its schools on the basis of documents it had received about the HIV status of a family member of those students, according to the letter dated Dec. 13 from Rebecca Bond, chief of the disability rights section of the department's civil-rights division.

Remediation

The Department of Justice outlined the following steps the Pea Ridge School District should take:

• Revise Policy 4.34 (“Communicable Diseases and Parasites”) to make clear HIV isn’t considered to be a condition requiring a student’s exclusion from school under that policy.

• Adopt and implement a written non-discrimination policy (“ADA/Non-Discrimination Policy”) that documents the requirements of Title II and its implementing regulation.

• Train and educate all employees, contractors and others providing services to district students on the ADA/Non-Discrimination Policy.

• Designate an employee to coordinate all of the district’s efforts to comply with and carry out the district’s responsibilities under the ADA.

• Pay compensatory damages to aggrieved persons for injuries caused by the district’s failure to comply with Title II of the ADA.

Source: Staff Report

"A student's HIV status, actual or perceived, is not a permissible basis for the exclusion of a student from a public school setting," Bond wrote.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity, Bond wrote.

The students were sent home from school Sept. 13, 2013. The district insisted that they not be allowed back into school until they had been tested for HIV and the test results had been returned to the district. The students were allowed to return to school four days later before the district received their test results, Bond's letter stated.

"All actions taken by the District were on the advice of the District's attorney at the time," school district Superintendent Rick Neal wrote in an email Wednesday.

The Department of Justice's findings and the attorney's advice are not consistent, Neal wrote. The district intends to work with the department "to put this matter behind us."

The school district's attorney at the time was David Matthews, who explained his advice during a Pea Ridge School Board meeting on Sept. 23, 2013. He said he feared that staff members and other students could be exposed to HIV.

Though HIV is spread through sexual contact in the vast majority of cases, "There are rare instances in which HIV has been spread in other ways," Matthews told the board.

HIV attacks the body's immune system. It is spread predominately through sexual contact and shared syringes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blood, breast milk and other bodily fluids can transmit the disease.

There are rare cases in which HIV has been spread in other ways, such as by biting. There is no risk of transmission if the skin is unbroken, according to the CDC.

Bond's letter outlined several steps that the district should take to address its violations, including revising its policy on communicable diseases and parasites to clarify that HIV is not considered a condition requiring a student's exclusion from school.

Metro on 12/22/2016

Print Headline: U.S. says schools' ouster of 3 over HIV tests illegal

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