There is no medical reason to expel a 5-year-old child with AIDS from her Fairfax County kindergarten and it is harmful to her not to attend, attorneys for the girl's mother said they told a county review panel yesterday.
The girl's mother filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to force school officials to readmit her daughter, who was removed from kindergarten in November. The girl is believed to have been exposed to the AIDS virus through a blood transfusion, her lawyers said.
The three-member review panel, which will recommend whether to allow the child back in school, met for more than an hour yesterday with two lawyers representing the mother, and with the child's doctor and social worker, both from the National Institutes of Health.
Fairfax County School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane, citing the possible risk to other students, has said it is unlikely that he would allow any child with AIDS to attend a regular class. But he said he would await a recommendation by the panel before deciding whether to ask the School Board to expel the child.
Spillane's handling of the case escalated into a full-blown controversy after publication of his comments to reporters after a news conference Tuesday. Spillane said the child's short life could have been made happier if the lawsuit had not been filed and the case had been settled peacefully out of court. "This kid will be dead in few months," he said. "What's the point of the lawyer?" Spillane said Wednesday that "the callousness of the printed remark reflects neither my personal feelings nor the position of the Fairfax public schools."
The superintendent's published statements and actions were criticized by parents, PTA officials and the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Some School Board members say they are unhappy that Spillane has not kept them up to date on the case, and scheduled a meeting tomorrow morning.
At least two School Board members say they disagree with Spillane's view that children with AIDS probably should be kept out of class. Board member Letty Fleetwood said yesterday that it is inconsistent for the school system to exclude children with AIDS. She said students are taught that "there are certain situations in which you can be susceptible to this disease, and sitting in class next to a student is not one of them."
The three review panel members are T. Page Johnson, Spillane's executive assistant; Dr. Fred Payne, assistant county health director, and Thomas Cawley, the school system lawyer. Also at the meeting as an adviser was Dr. Earl Virts, regional medical director for the Virginia Health Department. The meeting was moved up from its originally scheduled date next week.
State Health Department guidelines recommend that most children with AIDS attend school with no restrictions. Restrictions should be considered only when children "lack control of their body secretions or who display behavior such as biting and those children who have uncoverable, oozing lesions," the state recommendations say.
Lawyers Kenneth Labowitz of Alexandria and Frank Feibelman of Richmond said the child they represent has no such symptoms or behavior. "It's detrimental to this child not be in the school environment," Labowitz said.
Payne said the committee probably is through hearing medical evidence and next would meet to agree on a recommendation to Richard K. Miller, county health director, who would then pass on his recommendation to Spillane. It was the first time Miller's name had been mentioned in connection with the case; Spillane told reporters Tuesday the committee would report directly to him.
The mother's lawsuit said the exclusion of her daughter violates a federal law that prohibits discrimination against the handicapped.