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AIDS Schoolboy Says First Day At New School Went ‘Great’

August 31, 1987

ARCADIA, Ind. (AP) _ Ryan White’s fears about his first day at a new high school vanished quickly Monday as students and school officials gave the young AIDS victim a warm welcome.

″It went really great - really. Everybody was real nice and friendly,″ said the 15-year-old White after completing his half-day of classes at Hamilton Heights High School. ″I was terribly nervous.′

The welcome was in sharp contrast to the reception White got two years ago, when he was barred from Western Middle School near Kokomo by officials who feared he could spread the disease to other youngsters.

A judge ruled later that White should be readmitted to school because of medical evidence indicating the disease could not be spread through casual contact. But the battle at times split the Howard County community, causing some parents to withdraw their children from school and making White the focus of name-calling and protests.

His mother, Jeanne White, moved her family to Cicero, about 20 miles north of Indianapolis, earlier this year in hopes the environment would be more open to her son, a hemophiliac believed to have contracted the disease through medical products to help his blood clot.

White missed the first week of classes because of illness. He has been taking the the experimental drug AZT ″and he’s doing well on it; he’s more alert,″ his mother said.

He was greeted at the entrance of the Arcadia school Monday morning by Principal Tony Cook, Hamilton Heights School Superintendant Bob G. Carnal and several students who wanted to say hello or show him around.

″Students were just walking up to him in the hallways and shaking his hand,″ said senior Jill Stewart, the student council president, who lives near White in nearby Cicero.

There were no signs of protest, although Assistant Principal Steve Dillon said two of the school’s 620 students stayed home because of White.

″They’re afraid of the unknown,″ Dillon said.

Senior Bill Beechler, student council communications chairman, acknowledged that students ″probably all have a little fear″ about White deep down, but he said school meetings convocations with state health officials helped put them at ease.

He said students hope White will become active in clubs and other school activities.

″He’s had a lot of trouble at other schools, and we decided that he didn’t need that here,″ Beechler said.

Wendy Baker, a junior and student council historian, agreed, saying Hamilton Heights students have been able to handle the situation better than those at Western Middle School because more information about the disease is available now and because they are older.

Students at the junior high level ″rely more on their parents advice,″ she said. ″At the high school level, kids are more capable of making their own decisions on the subject of AIDS.″

Mrs. White said the anticipation of going to a new school had given White a sleepless night and an upset stomach.

But as he hopped in the family van, White was smiling, optimistic and anxious to see the new friends who have called him or stopped by his home for visits.

″It seems like here everything got off on the right foot with the state Board of Health,″ Mrs. White said. ″They (residents) got the right information ... before anyone had a chance to start anything.

″We’ve just had nothing but positive responses here,″ she added. ″We get a few stares in restaurants, probably because people recognize us. But I don’t see anybody get up and leave like I did in Kokomo,″ she said.

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