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For First Time Classes Not Interrupted With AM-Schools-AIDS Bjt

August 27, 1987

ARCADIA, Fla. (AP) _ The principal of Memorial Elementary was thankful Thursday for a quiet school day despite the absence of more than one-third of the classmates of three brothers with AIDS antibodies.

″It’s been very quiet. It’s the most typical day we’ve had so far,″ Principal Donald Knoche said four days into the fall term. ″Except for the high number of absences we’ve had, we’re back to normal.″

Attendance has improved slightly during the week, but remained far below the school’s expected enrollment of 693. On Thursday, 424 children were in class, a gain of 87 since Monday.

Just before school year started, a parents’ group called for a week-long classroom boycott to protest a federal judge’s order that said the three hemophiliac brothers had a right to be educated with other children.

The school was the focus of intense publicity Monday when the brothers returned to class under court order and in the glare of camera lights. On Tuesday and Wednesday, telephoned bomb threats forced temporary evacuation of the school. No bombs were found and classes were resumed.

″I know a lot of parents were concerned,″ Knoche said. ″Only a few voiced their concerns to me. They wondered when it was going to stop.″

Two days into the 1986-87 school year, DeSoto school officials banned the Ray brothers - Ricky, 10, Robert, 9, and Randy, 8 - from classes after they tested positive for antibodies associated with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Doctors said the boys probably were exposed to the AIDS virus through plasma-based products used to clot their blood. But they stressed the children showed no symptoms of the disease itself and assured school officials that casual contact in a school environment posed no risk.

The school district, however, lacked an AIDS education policy and wanted the Rays segregated from their peers until one was developed. They offered home tutoring until the matter was decided.

Superintendent Larry Browning appointed a communicable-disease committee of local school and health officials to make recommendations. The committee came back with general suggestions but no specific guidelines on AIDS cases.

Meanwhile, the boys’ parents, Clifford and Louise Ray, fled the state for Alabama but later decided to come back and fight. They said they returned when it became clear that hometown school records were going to catch up to them.

Frightened parents in Arcadia then entered the fray, first collecting signatures on a petition to support the school district’s stand.

The Rays sued in federal court in Tampa, claiming discrimination. A federal judge sided with them and the school board decided not to appeal. Parents abandoned the petition but called for a classroom boycott as a first step in a grass-roots fight against the court order.

DeSoto County still has no specific AIDS policy for its schools, but Browning said rubber gloves, disinfectants and sealed containers will be used in all the schools to handle bodily fluids.

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