AIDS Victim Begins School By Phone
KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) _ Classes for 13-year-old AIDS victim Ryan White began Monday when his science teacher at Western Middle School dialed a telephone number and Ryan pushed a button.
One by one, the 30 seventh-grade pupils introduced themselves to Ryan - who was sitting in his bedroom, listening on a speaker phone.
Ryan, a hemophiliac who contracted acquired immune deficiency syndome through a blood transfusion, would have preferred beginning his first day of school in the classroom.
But Western School Corp. officials say questions about the communicability of AIDS led to their barring Ryan from school. Ryan has been out of school since December.
Teacher Fran Samspel began her science lesson by continually reminding students to speak clearly and loudly so that the boy sitting five miles away would feel part of the class.
But Ryan’s mother, Jeanne White, said she’s skeptical of the telephone system’s effectiveness.
″It’s better than nothing,″ she said. ″But I’m worried about visual aids. Anything they do on the blackboard he’ll miss out on.″ Teachers said special projects will be videotaped for Ryan to watch at home.
Mrs. White, who has alleged in federal court that the school discriminated against Ryan as a handicapped person, said she was glad her son was not in school Monday.
″It’s not that I don’t want him there. But not until the parents and teachers accept him.″ And that, she said, won’t happen until more is understood about AIDS.
Parents have signed a petition supporting the school’s decision and have threatened to sue if Ryan is allowed into the classroom and another child contracts the disease.
U.S. District Court Judge James E. Noland ruled Aug. 16 that the case must go through school channels before he can consider it. But he retained jusidiction in the case.
School officials said a hearing officer would be named soon.
Studies have shown AIDS is spread by sexual contact, contaminated needles and blood transfusions. There is no evidence, however, that it is spread by casual contact.
High-risk groups for AIDS, which robs the body of its ability to fight infections, include male homosexuals, hemophiliacs and intravenous drug users.
Ryan’s physicians and state health officials have said Ryan’s condition does not threaten other students and that he should be allowed in the classroom.
″I have no problem being around Ryan,″ said school Principal Ron Colby. ″But I have 380 children between the ages of 11 and 13 that would have to be trained to deal with this (if Ryan attended school.) That’s my problem.″
Colby said ″everything possible″ was being done to make things easy for Ryan to adapt to his long-distance schooling.
″Ryan White is an average to above-average student,″ he said. ″And any child in a homebound situation can get an adequate education. ... I don’t feel that this is something totally devastating.″
One of Ryan’s former teachers said the problem is not only that of other children possibly contracting the disease, but of Ryan contracting a minor illness from another pupil which could turn out to be fatal.
″It seems like every year chicken pox goes through a certain amount of kids at school and how would we protect him (Ryan) from getting chicken pox? I think that ... would be fatal to him,″ said health teacher Ruth Dougherty.
Kari Wells, 12, said she would just as soon Ryan not be in her classroom. ″We’re not trying to be mean ... but we have to take into consideration that if he came to school, he could catch something and get sick. But I can’t blame him for wanting to come to school.″