The woman, a highly pected principal in the District's public school system, is aware of the fear of the incurable and fatal Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome -- AIDS.
"I worry very much about it," she said. "I had surgery. I had to get a blood transfusion. I thought, 'Suppose I get tainted blood?'
She is concerned, as are several other school principals who spoke candidly on the condition they not be identified, about what she will do when and if she learns that one of her students has AIDS. Some other principals, who deal with many children from disadvantaged backgrounds, recognize the fear but say they would be reluctant to separate a child from regular classrooms. They view children with AIDS as being up against a problem they face through no fault of their own.
Other principals, especially those who have carefully cultivated close relationships with teachers and parents, say they could not in good conscience defend allowing a child with AIDS into a regular classroom without our having a better knowledge of the disease. They say they keep those relationships strong by convincing the school community that they have the community's best interests in mind.
Still others feel there is nothing to fear at all, but even they agree there should be clear and convincing guidelines from school system administrators and school board members, guidelines they can defend with confidence -- guidelines they do not have now.
"I think that some principals fear seeing newsmen at their front door and parents wanting them to answer questions about the safety of their children," said D.C. School Board President R. David Hall. "That is why we must give them clear guidelines on what they should do."
The one D.C. student known to have been exposed to the AIDS virus is now being taught separately from other students.
One junior high school principal said he has shifted from being confident to feeling perplexed about dealing with a student with AIDS.
"There was a piece done about the Centers for Disease Control in which they said it is extremely unlikely that one can contract AIDS from casual contact," he said.
"But when they were questioned, like if a child with AIDS bit another in a scuffle, they said there may be a problem. If a child had diarrhea, there might be a problem. That kind of stuff does not lay fears to rest. It increases them.
"If someone could set up a workshop session, something that would give us more of an idea of what we are dealing with, that would help," he added. "At this moment, keep the student in a regular classroom? I don't think my staff and students could deal with it."
At an elementary school in Prince George's County, the principal is concerned that the only information she has about AIDS has come from conflicting news sources.
"I don't have a working knowledge of this. I don't feel comfortable about that. School administrators ought to get in-service training to know how to speak to the parents and staff members. I wouldn't feel comfortable in telling my staff or my community something based on what I know now."
Two principals whose junior high and elementary school students come mainly from low-income homes, say they already spend too much time trying to build self-esteem to begin "ostracizing" a child who has AIDS.
"I thought about that one child being taught over the telephone, sitting there all alone. Until they can spell out to me that this disease is easily communicable, then I say leave them in the regular classroom," the junior high principal said.
In a sense, the first principal mentioned in this piece shares the thoughts of this last one, with reservations:
"I have mixed emotions. It is such a horrible thing for that child. I feel so sorry for him. I think I would be in favor of letting a child stay in a regular classroom, based on the limited knowledge I have," she said. "On the other hand, I don't know how I could subject other students to that because of that horrible prognosis: death."