DENTON, MD., OCT. 26 -- It seemed like a formula for disaster: A small conservative town on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore was asked to accept into public school a 5-year-old boy infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

But disaster did not strike, fear has not run rampant and houses were not burned, as has happened in other areas. Denton, and Denton Elementary School, took the child and showed "the basic good in people," the boy's mother says.

Officials here credit a public education effort with helping to achieve the positive outcome.

This year, the youngster tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome. A mild hemophiliac who apparently contracted the virus during a blood transfusion, he has been hospitalized once for symptoms of AIDS-related complex, a sign that the disease has started to attack his immune system.

Unlike parents of HIV-positive children in other areas, David's mother made a point of telling the Caroline County school system she intended to enroll her son at Denton Elementary. She says she simply believed other parents as well as the system "had a right to know."

"Panic is a good word for how we felt -- this had never happened to us before and we never expected it to happen to us so soon," said Dr. John A. Grant, the county health officer.

"Our hearts went out to her. She simply alternated between extreme courage, saying things like 'Denton is going to show this country how to deal with AIDS,' and then she'd be holding back her tears and saying, 'What if they don't accept him?' "

Both the school system and health department had planned for the possibility of enrolling an HIV-positive pupil. A committee reviewed David's case, determining he didn't represent a threat to his classmates because he had full control of his bowel and bladder, his hemophilia was mild, and he was not an aggressive child who would likely bite or scratch others.

Grant and Superintendent William R. Ecker agreed to let him enroll.

"In many ways it was a very easy decision," said Ecker. "The real challenge was going to be in educating people."

They decided to hold a public meeting sponsored by the PTA. Although Grant feared the worst, the 300 people who attended conducted themselves calmly.

"By the end of the evening," Grant said, "people were making speeches defending why the kid should attend school. It was incredible. It was the most positive outcome of a potentially dangerous situation I have ever seen."

Few of his fellow kindergartners seem to be aware that there is anything different about him, other than the small canvas pouch he wears strapped under his arm. The pouch contains a mechanism that supplies his body with the drug AZT, which has been shown to extend the lives of people with AIDS.

One child was pulled from the boy's class of 90. School officials attribute the acceptance of the child to Grant's education program, David's mother's openness and the support of teachers and administrators, as well as sensitive coverage by the local newspaper.

Despite the good reception for the child, there is still some opposition in the community, Grant said.

"I don't think anybody is happy about it," said one parent. "I just decided to let it go at this point. Next year, I hope she {my daughter} is not in the same classroom."

On the whole, however, David's mother is grateful for how well things have worked out, and appreciative of those neighbors who sometimes leave groceries at her door when money is running low.

"The whole thing has just been so ideal. It's something this whole community should be proud of," she said.