Peace, Love, Joy, and Imagination…

Should teachers be told if a child has HIV?


Everyone has their own prejudices, and all too often other people suffer because of them. This week marked World Aids Day, and, realising that I was ill-informed on this subject, I thought it would be a good time to post on one mother’s experience of having a child with HIV. There is a lot of ignorance around this issue, and education (understanding that children aren’t at risk from cuts or grazes for example) can make a real difference.

*Laura’s daughter has HIV. She is currently at a school where staff, pupils and other parents have no idea of her condition. This is largely because of the way she had previously been treated. Laura explains more:

“Let me tell you about Anna. She has never been on any anti-retroviral medication, and she is not on any other treatment for HIV. She has never been seriously ill, yet.  For all intents and purposes she is a very healthy child who swims, runs around, get sweaty, goes to the beach, does ballet and gym, rides her bicycle, rollerskates, loves going to ‘big’ school, adores her friends and is an extremely popular little girl. She has been taught not to touch blood, cuts, sores or body fluids.  She has been taught about germs in very basic terms. We are careful, ensuring that we do not negligently expose her to conditions that could cause her to become ill. For example: when she goes swimming we make sure she gets dried quickly and we don’t let her sit in a draught wearing a wet costume. Aside from the commonsense approach to her care, she receives no treatment different to that which other children get.

When I was looking for primary schools for Anna, I found one I liked. I wanted to meet the head and ask if the school had an action plan to alert parents if there was a child who had chicken pox or other infectious disease. The head asked why I wanted to know, and I told her that it was because my daughter had a problem with her immune system. When she then asked me exactly what the problem was I felt pressurised into saying that she had HIV. She immediately sat back and physically pulled away from me.  Her body language shouted at me and gave her thoughts away, with utter disbelief on her face. She said: ‘We haven’t had one of those before’ and I was horrified.

I explained there was no risk to the other students nor teachers, the only real risk was to Anna if she picked up an infection from one of the other children. The head said she didn’t know anything about HIV and that she would need to discuss it with her staff before getting back to me. But she didn’t get back to me, so I contacted her again. This time she said that one of the teachers had raised a concern about teaching a child living with HIV. I asked which teacher – one in Reception? But the head would not name him or her. Instead she said she would go back to the staff again. She then told me that that this teacher was actually speaking on behalf of all of the teachers – they all had concerns. The head said that she had spoken to the school’s legal department as well as a doctor attached to the school about the issue. She said she personally didn’t have a problem but that if my daughter came to the school the dinner ladies would have to be told in case she had an accident. I said that nobody was at risk, but she wasn’t happy. Instead she suggested that I apply to other schools, but that I should not tell them about Anna’s HIV status. We teach our children not to lie, and then I am encouraged to live the lie…? I was then advised by our healthcase worker not to tell anyone else about her status because of the bigoted attitude people have to the disease. I never wanted to live a lie.

I am angry and disappointed about this whole experience. Anna’s HIV status was not of her doing. Who has the right to judge my little girl by that which runs through her blood? I expected teachers to be educated and professional – they were not. Anna is now at another school and they know nothing about her status. The teachers think Anna is fantastic, and she is very popular with her peers. We have not told many people, since we feel it will be Anna’s right to inform people when and if she feels ready to. But I do wish I could be honest with her teachers and particularly her headteacher. I cannot bear to even look at her headteacher, because I feel so guilty about keeping the truth from her.

Why don’t we speak out about HIV/AIDS? We speak out about so many other issues, some of less relevance. Education and Empathy would be positive steps in making people realise that this disease can be managed. It would make the public aware that people who are HIV+, can still contribute positively to the economy. They can still lead healthy, happy and ‘normal’ lives: go to school, have relationships, study, qualify, get married and become parents of children who are not HIV+, and make a positive contribution to society.”

*Names have been changed.

Read School Gate on:

Ending HIV discrimination in schools.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Dealing with... | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment