An Anne Arundel County judge today allowed a 3-year-old Millersville boy with herpes to continue going to a special education class in public school, but set strict conditions under which he may do so.
In a case that is gaining nationwide attention, Circuit Court Judge Eugene M. Lerner ordered that the boy be checked daily by a nurse for lesions and said that the boy could not ride a school bus before such an exam.
That part of his ruling resembles an order handed down last week in an Iowa case involving a 3-year-old girl with herpes.
Lerner, however, went beyond the Iowa criteria and said the boy must wear a one-piece jumpsuit so that sores on his back will not be exposed.
The judge said the boy's diapers must be changed in a room apart from the classroom used by other children, and that the person who changes his diaper must wear a disposable gown and gloves.
If the boy has lesions on his hands, he will be sent home under today's order, but if the lesions appear on parts of his body covered by clothes, he can remain in class.
The boy first showed up for class on Monday, but all five classmates and the teacher stayed home out of fear of being contaminated by the herpes virus.
The local teachers union went to court to force the school to put some restrictions on the boy's attendance. Today, the president of the union, as well as the boy's parents and an attorney for the school board, all said they were pleased with Lerner's ruling.
"I think there's agreement amongst all parties that we're now trying to do the right thing for all the kids," the boy's father said as he left the county courthouse.
However, parents of the boy's five classmates and the teachers union still want the boy kept home if any lesions are found, and the parents say they will continue to keep their children home until that condition is met.
The herpes virus is contagious only when lesions are present, health officials say.
The Anne Arundel case, which drew close to 20 reporters to the courthouse today, is the third instance of a preschooler with herpes to surface in the country over the last week.
In the Sioux City, Iowa, case, a federal judge last week declined a teachers association request to bar the girl from school, citing testimony of four doctors who said she did not pose a health risk. The girl is to begin classes Jan. 15.
In Sacramento, Calif., parents are protesting the attendance of a 4-year-old boy with herpes in public school.
In Anne Arundel, the saga is expected to continue at least one more week. Lerner scheduled a hearing for Jan. 18 on another union request for an injunction to bar the boy from school if the school system doesn't agree with its remaining concerns over health guidelines.
"The whole situation is a tragedy. It's disruptive to the community, to the school situation and to a family," said P. Tyson Bennett, attorney for the school board.
The community and teachers have found themselves at odds with the school system over how to handle the boy since his parents attempted to enroll him in a special education class last fall.
The boy has a speech impairment unrelated to herpes and federal law requires county schools to provide special education for children with learning disabilities.
Herpes is a viral infection, incurable at present, which appears as lesions, or blisters, on the skin or mucous membranes.
Its most common form is cold sores, but in any form it is contagious and can be damaging to the nervous system, health officials said.
The 3-year-old caught herpes shortly after birth from an unknown source. He gets lesions on his hands, back and diaper area, school officials said.
Neither of his parents nor his two siblings reportedly have the disease.
Born three months premature, the boy is developmentally 18 months behind his age and still wears diapers, officials said.