Milton Hershey School finally is doing the right thing by allowing an HIV-positive student to enroll.
It should not have taken more than a year and a lawsuit to get this outcome.
The law - and common sense - are on the side of "Abraham Smith," the name used in court documents for the HIV-positive student who was wrongfully denied admission to the school last year. He met all the qualifications to attend. The issue was that he is HIV-positive.
American disability law protects people such as Smith from being treated differently. The only exception is if he would be a "direct threat" to the health and safety of other students.
That's exactly what the school tried to argue. That kind of talk felt more like the kind of misguided fear promulgated in the 1980s when HIV-positive students fought to attend schools.
But this is 2012. By now the world understands far better this disease - and how to contain and control it. HIV spreads only through needles, sexual encounters or other blood to blood or bodily fluid to bodily fluid contact.
School officials said they were concerned the teen would have unprotected sexual relations with other students. It's shocking the school was so open about turning away a student based on what it imagined might transpire.
The school issued statements last week apologizing to Smith and his family and has extended Smith a spot at the school this fall.
But strangely, the school still stood behind its initial rejection: "Although we believed that our decisions regarding Abraham Smith's application were appropriate, we acknowledge that the application of federal law to our unique residential setting was a novel and difficult issue," school president Anthony Colistra said.
The decision was wrong last year. It appears to have taken the Department of Justice stepping in and saying the school was violating the law for the Milton Hershey board and president to change their minds this year.
This should be a turning point for Milton Hershey School. The school has changed its equal opportunity policy, but the MHS community, including its board, also should use this opportunity to educate one another about HIV.
Milton Hershey founded the school for underprivileged orphan boys. It has changed many lives - boys and girls. Now Smith has helped the school evolve again to better serve all children in need.
-The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News