The Fairfax County school system is drafting a "reasonable and humane" policy on students with AIDS that does not automatically include or exclude children from the classroom, Superintendent Robert R. Spillane said yesterday.
Meanwhile, county PTA officials said they would ask the School Board to name a broad-based advisory committee to draft a policy on students with AIDS. The board has ordered Spillane to propose a policy for discussion Jan. 7, but PTA officials said expertise from community groups and outside experts is crucial to winning public acceptance.
In a memorandum to the county's principals and top school officials discussing plans for the AIDS policy, Spillane also criticized The Washington Post's coverage of his decision to bar a girl with AIDS from kindergarten last month and said her case "became a legal and political media event before an educational decision was made."
The girl's mother filed suit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria Dec. 22 against the school system, alleging that her daughter's removal from kindergarten violated a federal law prohibiting discrimination against the handicapped. Federal courts have agreed with plaintiffs in similar lawsuits in four other cases nationwide.
At a news conference the day the suit was filed, Spillane said the lawsuit was premature because he had not made a final decision on the girl's education. But he added, "On the basis of what we already know -- active case of AIDS, active virus in the bodily fluid -- it's unlikely under those circumstances that I could be convinced to allow that youngster into the classroom."
The superintendent said the girl was barred from kindergarten under a state law that excludes children with contagious diseases from school. Federal and state health officials recommend that most children with AIDS be allowed to attend school without restriction.
Spillane's news conference and subsequent comment to reporters in which he questioned the lawsuit prompted the School Board to hold a special meeting Saturday at which it reversed its position opposing a written policy and ordered the superintendent to draft one. Prince William and Arlington counties have policies in place and Alexandria is drafting one.
In the memo to principals and school officials, dated Monday and mailed yesterday, Spillane wrote that the school system, "with expert medical and legal advice, has been developing a reasonable and humane approach that calls for a case-by-case review and decision. We have deliberately avoided a simplistic policy that would automatically include or exclude students with AIDS.
"Unfortunately, an AIDS case now under review became a legal and political media event before an educational decision was made," Spillane wrote, referring to the girl's lawsuit and resultant media coverage.
Kenneth Labowitz, attorney for the child's mother, said: "The only intention that we had was to obtain for this child the . . . right to access to a public education. We weren't given any indication that that access would be granted any time this century. We had to take the only option that was available."
The county Council of PTAs, which has been urging the School Board to adopt a written policy for months, will ask for appointment of an advisory committee including experts in health, medicine and the law "to take a hard look at all the aspects involved in an AIDS policy" and recommend one to the county, said county PTA Vice President Patrick Hanlon.
Hanlon said the group would make its recommendation by the end of January with the aim of having the board hold public hearings and adopt a policy by March, he said.
Hanlon said the PTA opposes the idea of Spillane's drafting a policy by next week because it is "too quick to really take the pulse of the public" and to gather the information the board needs to know to act. Public support is crucial in the development of any policy, he said.
Three PTA officials met with Spillane Monday to present their views and "he certainly didn't reject the idea," Hanlon said.
The county PTA favors adoption of a policy that sets out rules and criteria to guide school officials in making decisions about the education of children with AIDS. Some School Board members have said they favor a bare-bones policy that outlines the procedures to be taken when a child contracts the deadly disease.
Spillane's memorandum to principals also criticized The Post for using the word "expelled" to describe the girl, even though she has not been barred from school permanently, and for "attributing an inaccurate out-of-context quote to me and obscuring the school system's position on AIDS."
During his news conference, Spillane did not use the term "expelled" to describe the girl's status.
After his news conference, Spillane told reporters that the girl's life would have been much happier if the situation had been worked out peacefully. "This kid will be dead in a few months," he said. "What's the point of the lawyer?"
The girl's lawsuit is the first in the Washington area, and a motion for a preliminary injunction to force the school system to readmit her is to be heard Jan. 8, the day after the School Board meets to take up a proposed AIDS policy.
A three-member review committee heard medical evidence in her case last week and is to pass the information to county health director Richard K. Miller, who will recommend to Spillane whether to readmit the child. The School Board would have to approve her permanent expulsion.