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The unique needs of students often take the form of sensitive conditions that require a broad spectrum of response from the school. Although some special needs require significant modification to the learning environment, others require little to no modification at all. Among the special needs that generally do not require modification or disruption to the normal learning environment is HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
When interacting with or managing a student who has been diagnosed as “HIV Positive”, the two items to keep front of mind are confidentiality and support. In accordance with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ statement, children (or anyone) with HIV are considered handicapped persons. As such, although they may have a 504 plan in place, it is not common nor is it necessary. Because handicapped persons are a protected class, we must provide reasonable accommodations and ensure that there is no real or perceived discrimination.
Confidentiality is imperative in managing these situations, and in managing protocols for any other students with special needs. Only those with a legitimate need to know should be informed of the diagnosis. Although “legitimate need to know” is certainly a broad term, the informed should in general include: the child’s primary teacher(s), the school nurse or health delegate, the child’s advisor (if applicable), and any emergency personnel who may pick up or respond to an emergency the child is experiencing. It is important to note, that according to the U.S. Department of Education, the Surgeon General, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Medical Association (AMA), there have been no reported cases of the transmission of the AIDS virus in schools. Furthermore, there has been no medical evidence that shows that the AIDS virus is contagious in the school setting. If there is any question regarding the expectation of confidentiality within the school, one should contact the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education.
Discrimination is another key issue to keep in mind when working with with students with special needs conditions like HIV. It is important to keep the child’s learning environment as close to normal as possible. With HIV or AIDS, the only modification to the learning environment that is expected occurs when a virus or infection (flu, chicken pox, measles, etc.) is acquired by more than 5 - 8% of the school population, or if HIV should become AIDS. In each of these cases, the most logical decision for the student is likely (with the support of their healthcare practitioner) home-schooling for a period of time. Making the student feel comfortable at school should be a common goal among staff and faculty. Remember, HIV brings with it both physical and emotional challenges - school staff should aim to support both of these. Singling out the student for his or her condition or treating the student differently because of his or her condition can alter the student’s attitude toward school.
Additionally, it should be noted that children with HIV or AIDS are likely not to have received a Varicella and/or any other live virus inoculations - so it’s very likely that they will have a PBE in place with a medical reason. This is a relevant piece of information for your health office or anyone who maintains your school’s compliance/handles vaccination records.
If you’d like to discuss a specific situation facing your school community, or just have a question, please reach out to us at “firstname.lastname@example.org” We love talking safety!