Hershey School settles with boy denied admission because of HIV

File photo: The Hershey School's campus is 90 miles west of Philadelphia on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
File photo: The Hershey School's campus is 90 miles west of Philadelphia on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (LAURENCE KESTERSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 14, 2012

The Milton Hershey School for impoverished children will pay $700,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a 14-year-old Delaware County boy who claimed he was denied admission last year because of HIV.

The school also will pay $15,000 to the federal government to settle potential civil penalties.

The Justice Department investigated the boy's complaint and determined that the Hershey School violated provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, in denying the boy admission, according to the settlement.

The free school in central Pennsylvania, founded as an orphanage in 1910, is funded by profits of the Hershey Co. chocolate giant. It enrolls 1,800 students and funds its operations with the income of a $9 billion trust fund.

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit public-interest law firm, represented the boy. The project, Justice Department, and the Hershey School disclosed the settlement Wednesday.

"It's a huge win," said Ronda Goldfein, the executive director of the AIDS Law Project.

In addition to the financial terms, the Hershey School is required to provide training for its staff on the Americans With Disabilities Act, with a focus on HIV-related discrimination, through 2016.

The Hershey School told the boy in a letter in July he could attend the school. But Goldfein said, "He did not feel welcome. It was hard for a 14-year-old to put behind him what they said about him."

In denying his admission, the school had said the boy could be a threat to other students because of the potential for sexual contact.

"I am sorry for the impact of our initial decision on [the boy] and his mother," Anthony Colistra, president of Milton Hershey School, said in a statement . "We are fully committed to adopting the provisions outlined by the Department of Justice, and enhancing our service to children in need."

Contact Bob Fernandez

at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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