Three Siblings Suspended from Pea Ridge Schools over HIV Status Questions

Three Siblings Suspended from Pea Ridge Schools over HIV Status Questions

Officials release statement about why action was taken.
PEA RIDGE, AR (KNWA) -- On Monday, the Pea Ridge School District issued a statement on claims they removed three kids from school until they can verify their HIV status.

"The Pea Ridge School District is dedicated to providing a safe environment for our students, teachers and staff.

"As reported in the media, the district has recently required some students to provide test results regarding their HIV status in order to formulate a safe and appropriate education plan for those children. This rare requirement is due to certain actions and behaviors that place students and staff at risk. The district respects the privacy and confidentiality of all students. It is very unfortunate that information regarding this situation is being released by outside organizations.

"Our goal is to provide the best education for every student, including those in questions, in a responsible, respectful and confidential manner."

Last week, The Disability Rights Center of Arkansas announced the three siblings, including two special needs students, had been told they could not return to school until they could prove they weren't positive for the virus.

Original story (September 13):
PEA RIDGE, AR (KNWA) -- The Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, Inc. (DRC) claims the Pea Ridge Public School District has removed three siblings from school, two of whom have disabilities.

The group claims the students have been denied the right to attend school until documentation is provided that they are not HIV positive.

“The actions taken by the Superintendent of Pea Ridge School District are appalling and is reminiscent of times past and the case of Ryan White,” says Tom Masseau, Executive Director of DRC. “The fact that the foster families have to provide documentation that the children are HIV negative before entering the school is unlawful and immoral. Further, the fact the school’s attorney authorized this unlawful act is at best appalling. It stigmatizes individuals with disabilities or their “perceived” disabilities as there is no indication these individuals have HIV. There is only an unlawful fear that they do.

When contacted about the issue, Pea Ridge Superintendent Rick Neal would not confirm or deny the allegations but said they would be prepared to speak on the matter at a later time. In a letter sent to parents, the district cites district and Arkansas School Boards Association policy 4.34, in part, as the reasons for their decision. They also say they consulted the school district attorney and a private law firm.

The DRC says the three children were attending Pea Ridge Public Schools with limited supports. One of the boys, for example, is only allowed to attend school for two hours a day, the group says.

According to the DRC, over the summer, the school district completed a thorough review of records and found an evaluation on one of the boys that stated that the mother and one sibling were both HIV positive.

The school called a meeting on Monday, September 9, 2013, and informed the service provider that the students could not return until documentation could be provided to the school ensuring that the students were HIV negative, according to the group.

The DRC says, knowing that the school did not have the right to deny the students access to education based on suspicion, the students returned to school the following day.

They say the school kept the students until one of the foster parents received a call on September 12 to pick up the student and take him home because they had not produced the required documentation.

The DRC says they are reviewing all possible avenues to ensure that the three siblings will be placed back into the Pea Ridge Public School.

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