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Officials Call For Information Campaign On Student AIDS Victims

December 8, 1985

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) _ Education and health officials called Saturday for an information campaign to prepare teachers, students and parents for the growing number of young AIDS victims who will be attending school.

″When you’re dealing with an issue that is as precarious as this one, it is essential that people have time to internalize the information,″ Octavius Reid, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, said at a meeting of more than 300 teachers, parents, medical experts and state officials.

Twenty-five New Jersey children younger than 13 have been diagnosed as having AIDS, said association spokesman Frank Belluscio.

Five of the youngsters have reached school age. Two of them, 5-year-old girls in Washington Township and Plainfield, have been barred from attending school while officials challenge a state order that they be admitted.

The emotionally charged opposition by parents in the two districts shows that ″we must be prepared in advance before the crises occur,″ Reid said.

″It’s very difficult once the hysteria is there to turn it around because of the rumors that will go flying through a community,″ said Laurie Fitchett, outgoing president of the New Jersey Parents Teachers Association.

Under state guidelines, AIDS victims are allowed to attend public school unless they exhibit behavioral problems, excessive drooling or a lack of control over bodily functions. Disputed cases are reviewed by a state- appointed panel of doctors.

Dr. Jack Rutledge, deputy commissioner of health, said the guidelines offered limited justification for excluding students from school because there had been no reported cases of people contracting AIDS through casual contact.

″We have to believe that people ultimately will come to the same conclusion,″ said Rutledge. ″It’s in the best interest of society for these children to be mainstreamed.″

The virus that causes the disease can be transmitted by sexual contact, the sharing of contaminated needles by intravenous drug abusers, transfusions of blood or blood products, or infection from mother to child before or around the time of birth, medical experts say.

According to figures released by the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta earlier this year, New Jersey ranks fourth nationwide with 6.4 percent of all AIDS cases, but has 12.6 percent of all pediatric victims.

Janice Fitzsimmons, who was recently named New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year for 1986, said many of her colleagues were not satisfied that it was safe to have AIDS victims attend school.

″When you deal with a fatal disease, you’re dealing with everyone’s emotional state,″ she said. ″There is no cure and you get conflicting reports in the medical community.″

She said many teachers lack even basic information about AIDS.

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is an affliction in which the body’s immune system becomes unable to resist disease.

As of Nov. 18, 1985, AIDS had struck 14,862 people in the United States and claimed 7,628 lives since 1979. Most of its victims have been male homosexuals and drug abusers.

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