The Fairfax County school system would remove students with AIDS from class pending medical review and then educate them in an "appropriate" setting under a policy proposed last night by Superintendent Robert R. Spillane.
The proposed policy states that Virginia law requires that students suffering from contagious or infectious diseases be kept out of the classroom while in that condition. Spillane cited the same law in November when a 5-year-old girl with AIDS was removed from Riverside Elementary School.
The kindergartner was allowed to return, officials say, partly because she is being treated with the drug AZT, which slows the spread of the disease. The School Board approved her return on Saturday, but she is not yet back in school.
The proposed policy for the area's largest school system states that students with acquired immune deficiency syndrome shall be schooled in "an educational setting deemed appropriate" and that each case shall be considered on its own merits, but steers clear of prescribing who shall be allowed in the classroom and who shall not.
Fairfax officials said the policy Spillane proposed resembles many other policies around the country.
Despite the urging of the county PTA and a major teachers union, Spillane had resisted writing a policy, saying it would restrain officials at a time when information about AIDS is rapidly changing. The School Board ordered him to propose one after the mother of the Riverside Elementary kindergartner filed suit against the school system Dec. 22 to protest her child's removal from school the month before. Although Spillane said the lawsuit was premature because a medical review panel had not yet recommended final action to him, the mother's attorneys said the school system's procedures for handling the case were never explained to them.
The board will discuss the proposed policy at its meeting next Thursday and will hold a public hearing before taking action on a date not yet scheduled.
Under the proposed policy, a review panel, including representatives of the school system and health department, would examine medical evidence and present its findings to the county health director, who would make a recommendation to Spillane. No deadlines are established for this process, which is likely to be an issue when the School Board hears public comment on the policy.
The superintendent would be required to recommend action in the case to the School Board within 10 days, and the board would have to act by its next meeting. The board meets every two weeks, with some committee meetings in between.
Factors to be considered in deciding on a child's education would be his or her medical condition, behavior, neurological development, physical development and expected type of interaction with others. Also taken into account would be whether the child is in preschool, is neurologically impaired, lacks control of bodily functions, bites or has uncoverable oozing lesions -- all often considered risk factors for transmitting the disease, which is spread through contact with bodily fluids.
Before a student with AIDS returns to school, the school staff, students and community would be told and would be given information about the disease. The student's privacy would be protected, but "all personnel that need to know will be advised."
A committee made up mainly of medical experts but also including some members of the public would advise the superintendent on changes in the policy made necessary by changing medical knowledge.
The County Council of PTAs has asked that a community advisory committee be named to help draft the policy, saying public confidence is vital to the policy's success.
PTA Vice President Patrick Hanlon said last night that the advisory group as proposed "doesn't answer the question that we have" and said he hopes the School Board will allow ample time for public opinion to be expressed.
School Board member Kohann Whitney suggested last night that it might be three months before the board votes.
A similar policy is proposed for teachers and other employees with AIDS. It would put AIDS-afflicted workers on paid leave while a medical review is conducted. They would not be allowed to work in settings where they or others would be in danger, and, like students, would be kept out of the work place while in a contagious condition.