Prince George's County school officials will decide on a case-by-case basis whether students and teachers with acquired immune deficiency syndrome should be barred from the classroom, under a policy adopted by the Board of Education last night.
The board voted 6 to 3 in favor of the resolution after meeting several times to wrestle with the issue, which is also troubling school officials elsewhere in the Washington area and across the country.
"Everyone has great concerns about it . . . but I personally feel very secure we are not going to be a funnel for transmission of the disease," said board member Catherine Burch, who sponsored the resolution. "We have to go with what the experts say."
On Wednesday night, the board heard several health experts testify that there is no evidence that AIDS is transmitted through casual contact.
"Those in the health care field are more and more reassured by what we're learning," said Dr. Frank Polk, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore. "I would advise you to look carefully at what is known and not conjecture about what is not known."
The board's decision was one in a string of recent actions dealing with AIDS in schools. Fairfax County School Superintendent William Spillane announced recently that he would bar children with the disease from school. In Montgomery County, officials adopted the same policy on an interim basis until the school board takes a formal position.
Despite the testimony of health experts, several members of the Prince George's board were not convinced.
"I am not one who becomes easily frightened," said Chairman Angelo Castelli, who first raised the issue by introducing a resolution to ban students and teachers with the disease. "But somehow, I have a deep, abiding fear of AIDS . . . . I want to err on the side of being too conservative."
The case-by-case policy, adopted in place of Castelli's proposed ban, calls for a team decision on whether AIDS victims should be allowed in school. The team will consist of medical and school officials and the student's parent or guardian. It also directs the school superintendent to develop an educational program on the disease.
The County Council of PTAs recommended, in a vote taken this week, that the board bar AIDS victims from school.
Also, John Zieba Jr., student government representative on the board, spoke in favor of a ban. "We do not wish to be guinea pigs," he said.