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Concerned Parents Start Alternative School

April 22, 1986

RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. (AP) _ Twenty-one children pulled out of the public school attended by 14-year-old AIDS victim Ryan White today began an alternative study program in a former American Legion hall.

″This is not a protest,″ said one of the organizers, Dean Leicht. ″This is a very positive action.″

Ryan, a Kokomo seventh-grader who contracted acquired immunity deficiency syndrome through blood used to treat his hemophilia, had been barred from classes at Western Middle School school for most of this year. He returned to the 364-student school when a judge dissolved an injunction obtained by parents afraid their children could catch AIDS from Ryan.

Leicht and Charles Byers then set up the Russiaville Home Study School for sixth- and seventh-grade pupils. The school will be staffed by two licensed teachers.

Leicht said the children will get more personal attention at the new facility and that the atmosphere will be more conducive to learning. Asked about the cost and trouble of the new school, Leicht said, ″If you weigh that against your kid contracting AIDS and possibly dying, it’s not much.″

Meanwhile, David Rosselot, attorney for the parents, filed a notice of appeal today asking Clinton Circuit Judge Jack R. O’Neill to stay his April 10 order that allowed Ryan back in school.

Leicht’s 13-year-old daughter, Freie, a seventh-grader, said she fears contracting AIDS and feels she’ll be able to concentrate better in the new school.

Chad Gabbard, 12, said he had two classes with Ryan at Western Middle. ″The presence of Ryan makes me very nervous,″ he said.

He said the new school ″will be better. There will be more one-and-one for students, instead of having 34 in a class.″

″We don’t feel the environment at Western is a healthy one,″ Leicht said. ″We don’t feel like the medical community has given us proof that the kids are safe from AIDS. It’s a peace of mind issue.″

Health officials have repeatedly said that acquired immune deficiency syndrome cannot be transmitted through casual contact, but the parents feel too little is known about the disease to guarantee the children’s safety.

Ryan returned to classes for the first time this school year on Feb. 21, but judge issued a temporary injunction later that day barring him from school. On April 10, another judge overturned the order, deciding that the harm done to Ryan by denying him a full education outweighed the risk to classmates. Ryan had monitored classes through a telephone link to his home.

The alternative school is not permanent but will complete the current school year, which has six weeks left, Byers and Leicht said. They refused to say what parents are paying to send their children to the school, but said the two licensed teachers would be paid according to the Western pay scale.

No reporters would be allowed in the school ″in the interest of the education of our students,″ they said.

Western Superintendent James O. Smith said he was allowing students in the alternative classes to use books from the middle school because they rented them for the school year.

Twenty-eight students were absent Thursday, the last day for which Smith had figures, but only 10 submitted slips saying they were ill. He concluded that the others stayed out for reasons related to Ryan’s presence.

AIDS is an affliction in which a virus attacks the body’s immune system, leaving victims susceptible to a wide variety of infections and cancers. It is primarily transmitted through sexual contact, through the sharing of hypodermic needles by drug abusers and through contaminated blood or blood products.

As of March 24, it had killed more than half the 18,576 Americans it had struck, according to the national Centers for Disease Control.

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