DOJ: Arkansas School District Violated ADA by Requiring Proof of HIV Testing

children running into school

by Andy Jones
January 16, 2017

The Department of Justice has concluded that an Arkansas school district ran afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to enroll three students based on suspicions regarding their HIV status.

In 2013, the families of three students attempted to enroll them in the Pea Ridge School District. Each of the three students provided documentation referencing the HIV status of a member of thier family. As such, the School District determined that the students be excluded from school and extracurricular activities until they underwent HIV testing.

Following widespread media attention, the School District readmitted all three students prior to receipt of the HIV test results.

Disability Rights Arkansas filed a complaint on behalf of the three students with the DOJ, arguing that the school district’s actions violated the ADA, which, among other things, prohibits schools from “utilizing criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting qualified individuals with disabilities to discrimination on the basis of disability.”

In a four-page Letter of Findings [PDF] released December 13, the DOJ upheld the complaint.

“We find that PRSD violated Title II of the ADA by excluding three students from PRSD after reviewing a document in its possession that referenced the human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”) status of a family member of these students,” the Letter states. “The ADA expressly rejects such treatment. A student’s HIV status, actual or perceived, is not a permissible basis for the exclusion of a student from a public school setting.”

The DOJ demands, among other things, that the School District reform its nondiscrimination policy to make it ADA complaint, providing ADA training to school staff, and pay damages to the three students.

Disability Rights Arkansas applauded the DOJ’s findings.

“The actions taken by the U.S. Department of Justice against the Pea Ridge School District and the work conducted by Disability Rights Arkansas (DRA) will hopefully prevent this type of discrimination from happening again in the Pea Ridge School District and across the state,” DRA Executive Director Tom Masseau said in a news release, from December 22. “The fact that the individuals had to endure such scrutiny from the school district, as well as the community, is outrageous.”

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights Arkansas are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Arkansas, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.