|Dear Friends & PHC Supporters:
This is an update on the HIV+ child whose enrollment the Milton Hershey School ("MHS") leadership rejected, solely on the basis of the applicant's HIV status.
As you may recall, MHS leaders issued statements at the time claiming the boy constituted a "threat" to other children and otherwise inflaming passions.
Protect The Hersheys' Children, Inc. ("PHC"), alone among groups associated with MHS matters, called on the school to reverse its decision. We pointed out that this boy posed no credible risk to other children and was protected by law.
But the MHS misinformation campaign whipped up fear and prejudice, convincing many alumni and MHS children that the child was indeed a "threat" to the school, and even raised concerns for some PHC board members. It was disappointing to observe officials at a child welfare facility irrationally marginalizing and ostracizing an innocent child on the basis of long since debunked medical superstitions.
From CNN to Fox, commentators nationwide condemned the decision and noted the Ryan White parallels. Ironically, just down the road from MHS, the Hershey Medical Center itself houses a Ryan White Clinic whose doctors could have corrected the MHS leaders' mistaken views, if only they had inquired.
Precious child welfare resources were wasted, and continue to be wasted, defending the discrimination lawsuit filed against MHS as a result of this unsound decision. The reputation and brand of both MHS and The Hershey Company also suffered, as a national protest and boycott of Hershey products ensued.
But the insular, unreformed, and conflicted MHS Board would listen to no one.
PHC's principled stand at the time brought harsh attacks on our group. As the school stoked irrational fears, our refusal to leave this child friendless made us targets as well. But we were proud to stand up for this boy when few associated with MHS would do so.
We are gratified to report that PHC has again been vindicated.
After the United States Department of Justice definitively opined in the matter, the MHS leadership was forced to back down, on pain of facing increasingly severe legal consequences.
Underscoring how unlawful and medically unsound the MHS leadership's fear campaign had been, the school was even compelled to issue a full apology to the boy. The school also had to pledge to change its policies and come into compliance with the law and medical facts.
But the matter is not over: the disinformation campaign apparently poisoned the MHS climate for the boy in question. This is to a degree that it is unlikely the child could ever function at the school, even if he were now to enroll. In other words, MHS children, their guardians, and certain alumni have been irrationally persuaded by MHS leaders of the "threat," to a degree that one understands why the boy now would be afraid to attend.
This crisis was created entirely by an MHS leadership that lacks adequate child welfare qualifications and that operates without checks and balances. As such, it underscores the need to address the core MHS problem: the MHS Board must be thoroughly reformed and the leadership must be comprised primarily of child welfare professionals unmotivated by self-enrichment or other non-child agendas.
We further remind our supporters and the public that MHS children are being hurt on an almost daily basis as a result of poor programs and bad decisions. With more than one child removed from MHS on average every school day, the situation remains at crisis levels.
Broken promises on improving child safety, irrational programs, and tolerance for shocking conduct on the part of MHS leaders continue to translate into child tragedies.
The problems and dysfunction at MHS go beyond this one discrimination case and must be addressed systemically, before more children are hurt.
Once again, we thank those who stood with PHC and this child throughout his ordeal, as we took an unpopular but principled position.
We also ask you to continue to stand with us as we press forward in seeking the genuine MHS reforms that will make such incidents a thing of the past.
Very truly yours,
Protect The Hersheys' Children, Inc.
Ric Fouad Ken Brady George W. Cave
MHS Alumnus MHS Alumnus MHS Alumnus of the Year
Linda Gunderson Rembsburg Bob Chalmers Mike Macchioni
Concerned PA Citizen MHS Alumnus MHS Alumnus
For more information please visit www.protecthersheychildren.org.