(Hershey) -- The Milton Hershey School has reversed its policy to deny admission to applicants who are HIV positive.
In a statement, MHS President Anthony Colistra said, "We are issuing a new Equal Opportunity Policy clearly stating that the School treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants. We are also developing and providing mandatory training for staff and students on HIV issues and expanding our current training on Universal Precautions."
A 13-year-old denied admission because he has HIV filed a federal lawsuit using the pseudonym "Abraham Smith." He says the Milton Hershey School violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
MHS has extended an offer to the teenager and his mother to continue the enrollment process for fall classes. It's not yet known if Smith will actually attend the school this fall.
“I am sure this has been a difficult situation for Abraham Smith and his family. I publicly extend a heartfelt apology to him and to his family for the impact of our initial decision, as I did privately in my July 12th letter," Colistra said in a statement. "We hope to welcome this young man to our School family in the near future."
The school says it adopted the new policy based on recent "guidance" from the U.S. Department of Justice and is aslo developing training for its employees and students on HIV-related issues.
More than 1,800 hundred underprivileged children are enrolled at the school, pre-kindgerarten through 12th grade. Nearly a third of whom are from Dauphin, Lebanon and Lancaster counties.
Under the institution's Deed of Trust, a family must have an income that's within 150 percent of the federal poverty level for a student to be eligible to attend Milton Hershey.
The Hershey Trust Company, which manages the school's multi-billion dollar endowment, is the majority shareholder in the Hershey Company and owner of the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company.
Each member of the Trust board is a member of the school's Board of Directors.
Half of its assets are in stock from the nation's second-largest candymaker and the other half is equities from other companies. The Milton Hershey School is the Trust's sole beneficiary -- not the Hershey Company and not HERCO.
According to the Deed of Trust established by Mr. Hershey, the principal of the Trust cannot be spent -- only the earnings of the Trust and dividends from other companies.
Charitable trusts in Pennsylvania are overseen by the state Attorney General's Office.
Only one other educational institution in the U.S. that's comparable to the Milton Hershey School.
It's the Kamehameha (kah-MAY-ah-MAY-ah) School in Hawaii, which has a six-point-two billion dollar endowment and enrolls more than 6,700 children -- but less than half on a residential basis.
The cost to take such care of each student at Milton Hershey can reach up to $ 79,000 a year.
Full statement from Milton Hershey School President Anthony Colistra:
“Milton Hershey School will no longer refuse admission to otherwise qualified students who have HIV. As a result of this decision, on July 12 I extended to the young man referred to as Abraham Smith, and his mother, an offer to continue the enrollment process for fall classes.
“Our new process is already in effect. We are issuing a new Equal Opportunity Policy clearly stating that the School treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants. We are also developing and providing mandatory training for staff and students on HIV issues and expanding our current training on Universal Precautions.
“Our mission is to help children in need. It’s who we are as members of the Milton Hershey School community. And it’s what we have been doing for more than 100 years. I am a graduate of Milton Hershey School. It is the place that nurtured me and raised me. I want Abraham Smith to have that experience, if he still so desires.
“Although we believed that our decisions regarding Abraham Smith’s application were appropriate, we acknowledge that the application of federal law to our unique residential setting was a novel and difficult issue. The U.S. Department of Justice recently advised us that it disagrees with how we evaluated the risks and applied the law. We have decided to accept this guidance.
“I am sure this has been a difficult situation for Abraham Smith and his family. I publicly extend a heartfelt apology to him and to his family for the impact of our initial decision, as I did privately in my July 12 letter. We hope to welcome this young man to our School family in the near future.
“The Milton Hershey School staff are among the most loving and caring people anywhere. I have witnessed the great work they do providing not only an education but nurturing to our students. As they always do, our staff will enthusiastically welcome all students, and continue to transform their lives."
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