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