A 3-year-old Anne Arundel County boy with herpes is to begin special education classes in the public schools next week because school officials have concluded that he poses no unusual health threat to classmates and teachers and would benefit from being with other children, school officials said today.
The child has been at the center of an emotional battle between school administrators, on one hand, and teachers and parents of other children, on the other, since early December, when he was to begin remedial speech classes.
Because of the furor, his parents initially volunteered to keep him at home, but federal law requires, despite his age, that the boy attend school for two hours a day because of a speech disability, school officials said. His disability is not connected to herpes, according to school officials.
Herpes includes a range of widespread and contagious skin disorders that commonly result in lesions or blisters on the skin. It has two forms: Type I, which causes cold sores, and Type II, known as genital herpes that commonly causes lesions on the genitals. The Anne Arundel boy has not been tested to determine which kind of herpes he has.
Concern about the disease has grown in recent years with increased reports of genital herpes, which can infect and handicap babies at birth if the mother is infected. In extreme cases, either type of herpes can cause blindness and damage to the nervous system, said Dr. Pamela Moore, director of the county health department's school health services.
The boy, whose parents do not have herpes, is believed to have contracted the disease on his hands and back shortly after birth, school officials said.
More than 100 parents and teachers appeared before the Anne Arundel County Board of Education in December to protest the boy's enrollment at Pasadena Elementary School north of here. But Robert C. Rice, superintendent of county schools, said today that fears that the boy would contaminate other children have lessened because the parents and teachers have met with medical experts to learn about the disease.
Rice said the boy's disease will be handled just as chicken pox or cold sores are handled. If there are open sores that cannot be bandaged, he will not attend classes.
"We are taking the same type of precautions you would take for any common disease that is nonquarantinable," he said.
Rice said no change will be made in school policies to deal with students who have herpes. Also, no decision has been made yet on a request by county teachers that the school board cover any damages claimed against a teacher by a student who may contract herpes in a classroom, he said.