On Wednesday the D.C. Board of Education passed resolutions, by unanimous votes, establishing interim policies regarding students and employees with AIDS or Aids Related Complex (ARC). The board's two watchwords were "calm" and "reasonable."
The board wanted to take actions that would lessen anxiety and avoid fear and that were based on current medical knowledge. With respect to students, the board chose to adopt the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) recommended guidelines. The board authorized its president to establish a task force on AIDS made up of educators, doctors, attorneys and community representatives to develop recommendations that will provide the framework for a more comprehensive long-range approach to the problem.
This is not an easy issue. The hard-liners say, "Exercise caution. Save lives first and worry about civil rights later." The medical community says that all evidence indicates that casual contact with AIDS victims is a "minimum" risk situation. However, these assertions provide little comfort to a parent who would argue that a child with lice should be removed from the classroom. Why not one with AIDS or ARC?
This situation reminds us of the nation's reaction to Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The idea of herding persons of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps was effectuated. In retrospect, one thing is immediately clear -- regardless of which way the issue was decided, if it were decided incorrectly, there would be no way to later correct the injustice. The same is true of AIDS. If a policy decision is made to include or exclude students with AIDS, and it later turns out to have been the wrong decision, there will be no way to take corrective action. The deed will have been done.
When there is no clear right or wrong way, the rules to be followed are fairly clear and time-honored. The first rule is: exercise great caution (e.g., make final decisions on a case-by- case basis). The second rule is: apply a community standard. The District public schools are in the fortunate position of having time to do both if the present climate continues. We currently have no students with AIDS, although we have one student who has been exposed to the AIDS virus.
Before policy is set in concrete, the community needs to express a standard or reach a consensus regarding AIDS. The standard should be reached based upon full disclosure to the community of the latest medical information. The community screens the medical data through its unique moral-ethical-compassion- tolerance filters and renders a judgment. The Board of Education's tasks are to get information to the community, foster the development of a consensus and then translate the community's will into a reasonable educational policy.
While AIDS is in no way a game, it is clear that one learns much more about football from participating in a sandlot game than from watching it on TV. The Board of Education has contructed a temporary gridiron and put down flexible and movable yard markers and goalposts. The testing of community views under these conditions will lead to a quicker and better determination of what the ultimate rules ought to be.
The D.C. Board of Education has indicated that it plans to complete its task by year's end. This will be no mean feat. By then we need to know whether and how differently children and adult students should be treated based on age, maturity, behavior, previous exposure to AIDS, etc. We need to know what responsibilities can reasonably be placed on nonmedical personnel, i.e., teachers and principals regarding the education of students with AIDS. Most of all, we need full community participation.