New York Times Examines HIV at Missouri High School
The New York Times on Sunday examined the impact of last month's announcement that as many as 50 students from Normandy High School in Missouri might have been exposed to HIV. Officials at the St. Louis' high school sent a letter to the parents and guardians of its students on Oct. 13, which said while the St. Louis County Department of Health was investigating an HIV case, it had reason to believe that some students at the school might have been exposed to HIV. Stanton Lawrence, superintendent of the Normandy School District, said that the wide scale of the possible HIV exposure led to the decision to inform the entire population of the school -- approximately 1,300 students in grades nine through 12 -- even though such investigations are typically executed "quietly and confidentially" by health department investigators, according to the Times. No-cost, confidential HIV testing was offered to all students, and 97% participated. Results are expected sometime this week.
Lawrence said the letter was not meant to "create mass hysteria and panic" or "initiate an environment of fear," adding that the school district "didn't have a playbook" for how to address the situation. "Anytime you send 1,300 letters to parents, you can expect there's going to be a call to the media," Lawrence said, adding, "There's been some shameless sensationalism that's gone with this story, but given the choice between spurious headlines and meeting these kids' needs, I'm going to try to meet these kids' needs."
According to the Times, health department officials have not released information specifying how HIV exposure might have occurred, only that it was not through tattoos. One person has been confirmed to have tested HIV-positive, but officials have not said if that person is a student. Craig LeFebvre, a spokesperson for the county health department, said the department is "very limited on what we can release," adding, "We don't feel like we can release anything that would indicate who it was. We don't want witch hunts going on." However, despite "efforts to avoid the spread of misinformation, rumors flew through the halls of Normandy High as students awaited their test results and tried to guess how it was that [HIV] intruded on their high school years," the Times reports (Gay, New York Times, 11/8).