In Anne Arundel County this week, a decision by the public school superintendent to allow a three-year-old boy with herpes to attend a special education class so frightened his teacher and the parents of the other students that they all refused to come to class with him.
In dealing with an incurable and unpredictable disease like herpes, the first priority is to ensure that others are not infected. Yet the extreme of treating a blameless three-year-old boy like a leper is profoundly upsetting, especially when the school system failed to discover the relatively simple decision that temporarily satisfies both concerns.
Speaking on WDVM's "Morning Break" yesterday, Dr. John Grossman of the George Washington University Medical Center provided some information as to why parents need not be so fearful. But it is precisely that kind of information, from an expert, that Anne Arundel school system officials could have used in communicating with parents.
The parents and the union representing the county's public schoolteachers had wanted strict guidelines and procedures that would minimize the chances that teachers or students would catch herpes from the boy. But the school system failed to win the confidence of the teachers and did not convince parents that the boy posed no risk of spreading the herpes to their children. They then ordered the child into the special education class.
Similar cases now exist at schools in Iowa and California. Herpes, incurable and difficult to control, is a frightening disease to teachers and parents. School systems must take into account the fact that herpes casts a substantial shadow, and, if those officials are not careful, they run the risk of creating fears like those that arose in Anne Arundel County.
There, a perfectly rational and fairly simple solution was devised by Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Eugene Lerner, who was asked to rule on the situation by the teachers union, until he can conduct a full hearing on the case later this month. Judge Lerner said the boy, among other things, must wear a protective jumpsuit that would greatly lessen the chance that any lesions or open sores will infect others. This short-term plan has still not assuaged all the fears of parents -- but it has at least satisfied the teachers union, as well as the boy's parents, who are fighting for his access to education.