“Parents get upset if their children could be exposed to ringworm or chicken pox, do you really believe they would want a child who is HIV positive near their child?”
This was the rhetorical question posed by Beryl Guy, principal of John Hay Community Academy when asked about the proposed Illinois House Bill 193, which would require all grade school-level students to take a mandatory HIV test prior to entering kindergarten, pre-school or elementary school. Parents, however, objecting to the test can opt out.
The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Mary Flowers (31st), would require students to take the test before gaining entrance in a pre-high school academy. The test would be given such as other tests for measles, hepatitis and rubella, which are currently a standard procedure for students.
Flowers says she proposed the bill to address the growing HIV/AIDS crisis affecting young people in Illinois, particularly those who are black. Flowers said state health statistics shows how widespread the crisis is.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported in 2004 that there were more than 3,000 new cases of HIV infection in persons between the age of 20-29. Many of them may have contracted the disease when they were much younger, Flowers says, insisting that had they known they were HIV-positive sooner, they might have been able to receive proper treatment.
Guy, whose Hay Academy is located in Austin, 1018 N. Laramie, is not convinced. Even with the promise of privatizing the results of the test (only the fact that the test was taken would be known) Guy argues that there are still risks of a students’ HIV-positive results getting out.
“Though the records would be kept private from the school and the public, there are too many ways information such as this can get out,” said Guy. “If they confide in a friend and that friends tells someone, the student’s life will never be the same. And how will having a positive test result effect his academic career? At such a formative age, it could cause a ripple effect that will scar them for life.”
“I think even if it does not get out, students will secretly wonder about their classmates, and it could cause more behavioral problems,” said Gloria Robinson, a middle school teacher and graduate student at Governor State University. “Students would heckle, harass and taunt schoolmates they feel could be infected. It would make for a volatile teaching environment.”
Flowers countered that people already know who’s infected even without testing. The tests, she insists, would at least be a record of who’s infected, which could keep people from spreading the disease unknowingly, or knowingly, to others.
As for privacy, Flowers reiterated that parents could opt out of testing. Flowers added that a previous bill she sponsored, and which passed through the Illinois General Assembly, made HIV testing for newborns mandatory. HB 193 is pending.
Terry Dean contributed to this article