Lawsuit says Ind. teen with HIV bullied at school

By: AP
By: AP

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A school district in the state where HIV-positive Ryan White fought for the right to attend classes two decades ago is being sued by the family of a 14-year-old girl who says she was bullied so badly over her positive status that she left school.

The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against Washington Township Schools in Indianapolis said that the girl was subjected to name-calling and harassment at Westlane Middle School and that school officials did little to stop it.

In one instance, the lawsuit said, the middle schooler's soccer coach asked the girl whether she had AIDS, then told her the team could use her HIV status to its advantage because "the other team will be afraid." Someone left a note on her locker that said, "No AIDS at Westlane."

The girl, "on an almost daily basis, endured continuing harassment, teasing, name calling and bullying by her fellow students," said the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.

A school official said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it. An attorney for the family declined to elaborate on the case.

The lawsuit says the girl was found in 2006 to have the virus that causes AIDS. It does not specify how she contracted the virus. She confided her condition to a friend in March 2007, and the bullying began shortly thereafter as word spread throughout the school.

The girl's mother met with school counselors in April 2007 to complain about the harassment, but school officials took no action other than warning the students involved, the lawsuit said. The mother met with counselors three more times in 2007, and a friend of the girl's also reported the bullying.

After one meeting that included the girl's doctor, a school official told the girl's mother she would like the girl to attend Westlane but "could not promise to protect her," the lawsuit says.

The girl withdrew from the school in September and is being home-schooled.

Superintendent James Mervilde said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit but said the district prohibits bullying and harassment and has policies with specific precautions for cleaning up and handling bodily fluids.

"Since Ryan White, our policies have been straightforward," Mervilde said.

White, who died in 1990, contracted HIV through a blood transfusion to treat his hemophilia. He drew national attention to the plight of children with HIV in the 1980s when as a 13-year-old he was banned from a rural school near Kokomo.

Jeanne White Ginder, White's mother, now speaks to groups about HIV and AIDS awareness and said including AIDS and HIV education in school is just as important as teaching about any other disease.

"There is no need to panic," she said. "People need to know it's not a death sentence."

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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