HIV stigma is alive and well in Hershey, Pennsylvania

Published 08, Dec, 2011
Author // Bob Leahy - Publisher

The ghost of Ryan White. When a school denies admission to a 13-year old for having HIV, how can they possibly justify it? It’s 2011, after all. This is how. (Hear what Anderson Cooper has to say too.)

HIV stigma is alive and well in Hershey, Pennsylvania

The case has received a lot of attention. It’s unbelievable.  But in case you haven’t been following, here are the facts, as per Reuters.  A private boarding school connected with the Hershey chocolate company says it was trying to protect other students when it denied admission to a Philadelphia-area teenager because he is HIV-positive.

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit on behalf of the unidentified boy in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Wednesday, claiming the Milton Hershey School for disadvantaged students violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

School officials acknowledged that the 13-year-old boy was denied admission because of his medical condition.

The interesting and perhaps most revolting part of the story is the how the school justifies this archaic and discriminatory behaviour  that want even appropriate twenty years ago. So, again, in case you haven’t read it, here is the press release from the school involved

Dec. 1, 2011, 5:01 p.m. EST

Statement from Milton Hershey School on Lawsuit Filed by the AIDS Law Project of PA

HERSHEY, Pa., Dec. 1, 2011 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- The following statement was issued today by Connie McNamara, Vice President, Communications at Milton Hershey School:

Milton Hershey School had planned to file a request in federal court asking the court to review our decision to deny enrollment to a child who is HIV positive because of concerns for the health and safety of our current students.


We had been in discussions with the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, which is representing this 13-year-old boy. Recognizing the complex legal issues, the School was preparing to ask the court to weigh in on this matter. Unfortunately, attorneys for the young man took the adversarial action of filing a lawsuit against the School.

The decision to deny enrollment was a challenging one for us to make. Like all our enrollment decisions, we need to balance our desire to serve the needs of an individual child seeking admission with our obligation to protect the health and safety of all 1,850 children already in our care.

Attorneys for this young man and his mother have suggested that this case is comparable to the Ryan White case. But this case is actually nothing like the Ryan White case. Milton Hershey School is not a day school, where students go home to their family at the end of the day. Instead, this is a unique home-like environment, a pre-K -12 residential school where children live in homes with 10-12 other students on our campus 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In order to protect our children in this unique environment, we cannot accommodate the needs of students with chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others. The reason is simple. We are serving children, and no child can be assumed to always make responsible decisions that protect the well being of others.

That is why, after careful review and analysis, we determined we could not put our children at risk.

(Contact: Connie McNamara 717-520-2212 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Meanwhile the child involves is quoted as saying “I don’t feel normal anymore.”

The school is a disgrace.

Here’s what CNN's Anderson  Cooper had to say about the story.  In the video below he is talking to school spokesperson Connie McNamara, with a response from the teen involved, an interview with Ryan White’s mother and  the teen’s attorney.


About the Author

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Award-winning blogger Bob Leahy first made his social media mark a decade ago on where there are still to this day almost 3,000 entries of his available to be read. He was a featured blogger on Ontario’s campaign, along with founder Brian Finch. He joined at its inception in 2009 and became it's Editor a year later.

Born in the UK, Bob’s background is in corporate banking, which he gladly left in 1994, after being diagnosed with HIV the previous year.  He has chaired the board of PARN (Peterborough AIDS Resource Network) and has been an executive board member of both the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS).  He was inducted in to the Ontario AIDS Network’s Honour Roll in 2005.  Bob is currently a member of Ontario’s GMSH (Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance). He also writes for

In 2012, Bob was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his work and commitment to HIV/AIDS in Canada.

Bob continues to write for this site while in the Positivelite.Com editor’s seat, with a particular interest  in HIV prevention, theatre and the arts in general. He is accredited media for a number of Toronto theatres. He lives in Warkworth, Ontario with his partner of thirty-two years and three dogs.