South Carolina House To Consider Bill That Would Eliminate Requirement To Inform School Officials of Students’ HIV-Positive Status
The South Carolina House this week is scheduled to consider a bill (SB 970) that would eliminate a state law that requires the Department of Health and Environmental Control to notify school district superintendents and nurses if students test HIV-positive, the Columbia State reports.
The measure has already been approved by the Senate (Smith, Columbia State, 4/21). Under current law, DHEC is required to disclose to school superintendents and nurses if any student is diagnosed as HIV-positive. The agency has been concerned that the requirement violates students' right to privacy. In addition, students might be more likely to receive an HIV test if they are confident their results would remain private, according to the measure's sponsor, Sen. Brad Hutto (D) (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/15).
Hutto said South Carolina's current law poses significant privacy concerns. "It's a walking HIPAA lawsuit," Hutto said, referring to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act, which restricts who has access to a person's health records. "The first time someone inadvertently reveals this information, everyone who touches it will have a problem," he added. Under current law, school officials are prohibited from telling others about a student's HIV-positive status. "It's superfluous information that (superintendents and nurses) can't act upon," Hutto said, adding, "They can't notify another student or teacher or parent. They can't send the student for counseling. It's knowledge that has no purpose. So why have it at all?"
Rep. Kris Crawford (R) said that school nurses and superintendents need such information because of school incidents during which students can bleed. "There are a lot of cuts, abrasions, bruises, everything on the football field," Rep. Jeff Duncan (R) said. He added, "Someone at the school needs to know if a student has HIV as a precaution. Then they can direct students who may have been exposed to go to the hospital and get those drugs that reduce the chance of them getting HIV."
Crawford, with the support of Duncan, next week plans to propose a change to Hutto's bill that would require DHEC to tell school administrators if a student is living with HIV/AIDS, as well as other bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis B and C, the State reports. Under Crawford's measure, school officials would be informed that an unnamed HIV-positive student attends a specific school. In the event that a fight or other situation involving blood occurs, school nurses could contact DHEC to determine if any of the students involved has a communicable disease.
Bambi Gaddist, executive director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council, said that current state law "represents the fear and hysteria which was present at that time," adding, "But we have come far in understanding how you get (HIV) and how you don't. Knowing what we know now makes this law obsolete." According to DHEC, there were 113 state residents ages 13 to 19 living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2006 (Columbia State, 4/21).