Published February, 1988

Chalk v. U.S. District Court, Central District of California, 840 F.2d 701 (9th Cir. 1988)

Relying heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in School Board of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273 (1987), the Ninth Circuit found that a teacher with AIDS who was reassigned to an administrative position in the school because of his disease need not prove with certainty that he posed no risk to students in order to receive the protection of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Chalk was a teacher of hearing-impaired students in a public school. After a bout with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), which led to his AIDS diagnosis, Chalk was found fit for work by his own treating physician and attempted to return to the classroom. The school consulted with an epidemiologist for the county who confirmed that Chalk’s presence in the classroom posed no risk of infection to his students. Nonetheless, the school insisted that he take an administrative position and not return to the classroom. Applying the four-prong test outlined in Arline for exclusion of a disabled person from the workplace, the Ninth Circuit concluded that Chalk need not disprove every theoretical possibility of harm. According to the court, “[l]ittle in science can be proved with complete certainty, and section 504 does not require such a test.” The court further concluded that Chalk was at risk for irreparable injury to his livelihood and that under the “balance of hardships” standard, the injury to Chalk outweighs any harm to the school. Lastly, the court addressed the public fear associated with allowing a teacher with AIDS to be in contact with students by saying that, “[t]o allow the court to base its decision on the fear and apprehension of others would frustrate the goal of section 504.”