AIDS Brothers Enroll As Sarasota Extends Wary Welcoming Hand
SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) _ Three brothers whose exposure to AIDS made them pariahs in their rural hometown enrolled in a new school Wednesday without incident and with a hesitant welcome from schoolmates and parents.
But Wednesday evening, residents supporting the boys picketed outside a building where a rally was to have been held by Citizens Against AIDS in Schools. The meeting was moved after a bomb threat.
Earlier in the day, deputies patrolled the grounds at Gocio Elementary School. And officials reported that 120 of the 615 pupils stayed home. Up to a dozen pupils were withdrawn. The usual absentee rate is about 3 percent.
But the day had encouraging moments for the Rays - 10-year-old Ricky, Robert, 9, and Randy, 8.
Ricky found welcome cards on his desk, said Clifford Ray, the boys’ father.
After school, acting Principal Lee Coose said: ″We had a super day, A-OK across the board.″
″Everything was positive,″ said the boys’ mother, Louise. ″One of (the boys) said they had to assign seats in the lunchroom because everyone wanted to sit next to them.″
The boysattended school in Arcadia for a week under federal court order. A boycott that emptied classes, and telephone threats were made against the school and family. They left Arcadia after an Aug. 28 fire gutted their home. The DeSoto County sheriff’s department said Tuesday that the fire was arson but said it was ″definitely not related″ to the community furor.
The Ray family moved to Sarasota because school board policy allows children exposed to AIDS to attend school if they pose no threat to children and are undergoing medical treatment.
Charles Fowler, Sarasota County Schools superintendent, said he has asked the state Legislature for a statewide policy, ″so you don’t end up with parents being shuttled from county to county, looking for a policy.″
The Ray boys are ″still a little gunshy of school because of what’s happened,″ and will receive counseling, said Mrs. Ray.
The boys gave a shy wave to reporters outside the school Wednesday but waved off questions.
School officials had been concerned about reaction from parents in Sarasota, but the enrollment took place without incident. Before school, some parents protested the Rays’ move to Sarasota schools.
″The Rays are hollering about their civil rights,″ said Tim Whitworth, who didn’t let his daughter go to school. ″But they are violating our civil rights by shoving their children down our throats. People will turn violent. They’ll end up with another Arcadia if they’re not careful.″
″I don’t see any problem with it at all. My son has eczema and asthma, and people could also be afraid of him,″ said Rosa Lamphier.
Natalie Yoder, who works in a medical lab and routinely draws blood, told her two children to be nice to the boys.
″I expect them to treat these kids nicely, and that they’ve done nothing to deserve otherwise,″ she said.
On Tuesday night, 300 parents crowded into a school cafeteria to learn about the risks and myths related to sending their children to school with the Ray brothers.
A group from Arcadia, Citizens Against AIDS in Schools, was in Sarasota for a rally Wednesday night.
But moments before the rally was to begin, police received a bomb threat and evacuated the building, said police spokesman Fred Schmidt. The meeting was moved next door.
Melody Patton, one of the organizers of the Arcadia group, said she came with seven other members after being invited by 60 parents from Sarasota and Bradenton.
″We’re going to be starting a branch here just as soon as we can,″ Mrs. Patton said after the meeting. The question-and-answer session was marked at times by shouting between Ray supporters and the Arcadia group.
Sarasota resident Greg Rudolph, among 300 who attended the meeting, said he wouldn’t send his son and daughter to school with classmates exposed to AIDS.
″I’ll teach them at home, so I guess he’ll be as dumb as me, but he won’t be dead,″ he said.
Outside, about 30 members of the newly formed Sarasota-based Citizens Against Disinformation picketed the Arcadia group. Placards read ″Sarasota Doesn’t Have a Problem - Don’t Create One″ and ″Fight AIDS - Not Kids.″
″They’re offering information that is only adding to the hysteria which is already running rampant,″ said co-organizer Paul Hawkins. ″I think there is a paranoia about the disease, and that stems from ignorance.″
Fowler said Tuesday that he learned recently of two other children attending Sarasota schools who have been exposed to acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus.
″The Rays will be the first and last school children publicly known to have the antibody in the school,″ he said.
Dr. Robert E. Windom, No. 2 official of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, called the principal ″to congratulate him, the teachers, children and parents on the success of their efforts in accepting the Ray children into their school and their hearts,″ said Public Health Service spokesman Jim Brown.
Despite the many hurdles facing his family, Ray was optimistic he would find a job soon and said Sarasota has extended a welcoming hand.
After the Rays first arrived in Sarasota, they were driving and ″a guy pulled up, yelling at us.″
Ray asked his wife to open the window. ″All the guy was saying was ’Welcome to Sarasota.‴