A 5-year-old kindergarten girl has returned to Riverside Elementary School in Fairfax County, accompanied by a nurse and several unusual medical precautions, two months after being sent home because she has AIDS.
With one exception, "I haven't heard of anybody pulling their children out," said Kathy Tank, secretary of the school PTA. "People seem to be reacting calmly."
The girl came back to class late last week after the School Board readmitted her Jan. 2 based on medical advice that she was not a significant danger to other students. The girl's mother had sued the school system Dec. 22 seeking her daughter's readmission.
Several medical steps -- in addition to the School Board-mandated use of a registered nurse -- were taken that reflect consultation with the county health department and account for kindergarteners' less-than-perfect sanitary habits, Beatrice Cameron, an assistant school superintendent, said yesterday.
Students in the girl's class will drink from paper cups instead of directly from the water fountain, and each will receive individual pencils and glue containers instead of using communal supplies.
Medical experts repeatedly emphasize that AIDS cannot be acquired by casual contact, but is spread by sexual contact, shared use of intravenous drug needles and, as in the case of the kindergarten girl, contaminated blood transfusions. Cameron said the steps are "general, basic hygiene" and not meant to give the impression that AIDS can be transmitted through water fountains, pencils or glue. AIDS destroys the body's resistance to disease.
The paper cups will protect the girl from impetigo, a contagious skin disease that can be spread through drinking fountains, said Fred Payne, the recently retired deputy county health director who now serves as a consultant to the school system on AIDS.
The girl has had "a couple of bouts" with impetigo, but it would single her out if she were the only student using a paper cup so officials decided to ask all children in her class to use them, Payne said.
The individual supply kits were ordered because children have a tendency to lick their fingers after putting them in their glue pots and to chew their pencils, which they then share with others, said Cameron.
Payne said the kits were not ordered because of the girl with AIDS but because the school system is considering using them countywide and "this is a tryout."
Both individual supply kits and paper drinking cups already are used in preschool classrooms and special education classes where there are students with herpes or cytomegalovirus, another viral disease.
Health officials also suggested the use of plastic garbage bags and the provision of gloves for the child's teacher and aide in case of a cut or other accident, Cameron said. Teachers and staff members have been reminded of standard hygiene practices "like your mother always used to tell you to wash your hands," Cameron said.
On orders of the School Board, the child's medical condition will be reviewed at least once a week, and a committee of medical experts will advise the school system of any needed changes in her education plan at least every three months.
The School Board is to vote at its Jan. 28 meeting on a calendar for adoption of a proposed policy on students and staff members with AIDS. The board had opposed having a written policy but changed its mind after the girl's mother filed suit against the school system.