Thomas v. Atascadero Unified School District, 662 F. Supp. 376 (C.D. Cal. 1986)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

In this case, a five-year-old student with HIV could not be excluded from attending his public elementary school based on his HIV status. The student had originally been allowed by the school board’s Placement Committee to attend regular kindergarten class, but was subsequently barred from attending when he bit another student during a fight (the bite did not break the other student’s skin). The court found that the school board had treated the student differently from other students because of his HIV infection, and that restricting the student’s access to kindergarten violated the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, under which the student is considered a “handicapped person” because of his HIV status. By law, the school district may not exclude a student based on his or her handicap unless the handicap would make it impossible for the student to be educated in a regular classroom setting. Because the school district presented no medical evidence to prove that AIDS could be transmitted by human bites, it failed to demonstrate that the student posed so much of a threat that he could not be accommodated in the regular kindergarten classroom.

Decided in the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, this case demonstrates that even when much less was known about HIV, it was clear that HIV could not be transmitted via casual contact, and that children with HIV could not be excluded from traditional school settings solely because of their health status.

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