ERIC Identifier: ED282349
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Scott, James
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management Eugene OR.

Communicable Diseases in the Schools. ERIC Digest, Number Sixteen.

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in public concern about communicable diseases in the schools. At the same time, federal laws have put stringent limits on the extent to which schools can exclude infected children from the classroom. Consequently, school administrators must find ways to strike a balance between protecting the general school population from exposure to dangerous communicable diseases and ensuring the infected student's rights to privacy and to a public education.

WHY HAS THE CONTROVERSY OVER COMMUNICABLE DISEASES IN THE SCHOOLS ARISEN?

In recent years, two communicable diseases - AIDS and herpes - have received a great deal of publicity. At present, both diseases are incurable. AIDS is fatal. Although herpes is less worrisome, a number of small children who have contracted herpes have developed serious complications. On rare occasions, those complications have proved fatal.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that parents are more concerned about possible exposure of their children to AIDS or herpes than they are about possible exposure of their children to measles or other communicable diseases.

WHY NOT SIMPLY EXCLUDE INFECTED CHILDREN FROM THE CLASSROOM?

In the past, this might have been the preferred means of dealing with the problem. At present, however, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act requires that, insofar as possible, handicapped children be provided the same educational opportunities, in the same environment, as those provided to children who are not handicapped. Some legal experts believe that children with incurable diseases such as AIDS and herpes may fall under the legal definition of "handicapped."

In addition, the limited evidence available indicates (but does not prove beyond all doubt) that AIDS is not transmitted by the kind of casual contact that would take place in a classroom environment. Herpes is transmitted only through direct contact with herpes sores. Thus the disease poses no danger when sores are not present, and any risk of transmission when they are present can be greatly reduced by keeping them covered.

The whole situation places school administrators in a very delicate position. If they exclude a child from the classroom simply because the child is infected by a disease that might or might not be communicable in the classroom environment, they could be sued by the child's parents (at least one such suit has already been filed). At the same time, if administrators permit an infected child to attend classes and a teacher or other student becomes infected as a result, the newly infected teacher or parents of the newly infected student may very well file suit.

WHAT PROCEDURES SHOULD SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS FOLLOW IN DEALING WITH STUDENTS WHO HAVE POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS COMMUNICABLE DISEASES?

The National Education Association has proposed a set of procedural guidelines for making decisions regarding students with AIDS. The essential features of those guidelines can reasonably be applied to other potentially dangerous communicable diseases, such as herpes or hepatitis B. Those features are as follows:

First, decisions about whether and to what extent infected students should be permitted to remain in the classroom should be made on a case-by-case basis by a "team composed of public health personnel, the student's physician, the student's parents or guardian, and appropriate school personnel, which shall include the infected student's primary teacher(s)."

Second, if the school has reasonable cause to believe that a student may be infected, the school may require the student to submit to a medical examination.

Third, if an infected student is not permitted to attend classes, every reasonable effort must be made to provide that student with an alternative education. To the extent that this requires personal contact with the student, only school personnel who volunteer shall be used.

Fourth, "the identity of an infected individual shall not be publicly revealed." However, the infected individual's identity shall be revealed to those school employees who are likely to have regular personal contact with him or her.

It should be emphasized that these are general guidelines only and that they are subject to change at any time, as more legal and medical knowledge becomes available. School administrators are urged to consult with legal counsel and develop written policies for dealing with dangerous communicable diseases before such diseases make their presence known in the school system.

WHAT CAN BE DONE AT THE CLASSROOM LEVEL TO CONTROL THE SPREAD OF COMMUNICABLE DISEASES SUCH AS AIDS AND HERPES?

According to Crosson, "the application of appropriate hygiene, sanitation and environmental control procedures" is essential for controlling the spread of communicable diseases in general - not just such widely publicized diseases as AIDS and herpes. These include such commonsense measures as using gloves when cleaning up blood, vomit, or feces, and forbidding the mouth-to-mouth sharing of food and objects such as pencils. In addition, a child who is known to be infected with herpes should be checked regularly for sores, and such sores should be covered to ensure that no one else comes in contact with them.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Crosson, James E. INFECTIOUS DISEASE AND THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Des Moines, Iowa: Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center, Drake University, May 1985. ED 262 553.

Flygare, Thomas J. "Are Victims of AIDS 'Handicapped' under Federal Law?" PHI DELTA KAPPAN 67 (February 1986): 466-67.

Foutes, James A. "Policy Decisions in Scabies Control." JOURNAL OF SCHOOL HEALTH 51 (December 1981): 673-75.

McCormick, Kathleen. "AIDS and Herpes Carry Weighty Policy Implications for Your Board." AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL 172 (October 1985): 37-38.

National Education Association. "Recommended Guidelines for Dealing with AIDS in the Schools." NEA COMMUNICATIONS NEWS (9 October 1985): 8. ED 263 739. Available from NEA, 1201 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20036.

Sleator, Esther K. INFECTIOUS DISEASES IN DAY CARE. Urbana, Illinois: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, 1986. Available from ERIC/EECE, 805 W. Pennsyvania, Urbana, IL 61801.

Splitt, David A. "Plan Now for AIDS Lawsuit." EXECUTIVE EDUCATOR 8 (March 1986): 12.

"The Policy Tackles a New AIDS Risk." AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL 173 (March 1986): 18.

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