HIV/AIDS: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
This document contains information on the management of HIV/AIDS in schools and the rights and responsibilities of learners, educators and parents with regards to HIV/AIDS. Answers are provided to some of the common questions such as whether HIV positive learners can be excluded from school, whether schools can test learners for HIV and how schools can prevent the risk of HIV transmission in the school environment. Advice is also provided on drafting a school HIV/AIDS policy.
Originally published in October 1999 by the AIDS Legal Network, with funding from the European Union Foundation for Human Rights. Reprinted by the WCED with kind permission.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The management of HIV/AIDS in schools
Millions of people are infected with HIV and this number is steadily rising. As a result, increasing numbers of learners and educators infected with HIV are part of our schools. People who are infected with HIV face discrimination because of their HIV positive status. It is therefore important that all schools have an HIV/AIDS policy to ensure that:
- The rights of all learners and educators are respected.
- Learners and educators with HIV are managed appropriately.
- Further HIV infection is prevented.
- A non-discriminatory and caring learning environment is created.
A national policy on the management of HIV/AIDS in schools has been drafted by the Department of Education for public learning institutions. Schools and governing bodies should develop and adopt their own policies in keeping with the principles in the national policy. If a school does not have its own policy this one will automatically apply.
Knowing your rights as parents, educators and learners and understanding the principles of the national policy as well as the Constitution will assist you to effectively manage HIV/AIDS effectively at your school.
Can HIV positive learners be excluded from school?
No. The Constitution says that everyone has a right to equality and that children have a right to a basic education. The national policy also states that no learner may be unfairly discriminated against and denied admission to a school on the basis of his or her HIV status.
May learners with HIV be treated in a different way to other learners?
Learners with HIV should not be denied the opportunity to reach their full potential. Their needs should be accommodated as far as is reasonably possible within the school environment or through homeschooling if necessary. Any special measures taken must be fair, medically justifiable and taken in consultation with the learner and parent.
May a school demand information about a learner's HIV status?
No. All medical information is confidential and neither parents nor learners have a legal duty to tell the school authorities of a learner's HIV status. Should this information be voluntarily disclosed, it must remain confidential.
Can schools routinely test learners for HIV?
There is no medical or scientific justification for routinely testing learners for HIV. The testing of learners for HIV as a prerequisite for admission or continued attendance is prohibited in the National Policy.
Can schools test learners for HIV without their consent?
No person may be tested without his or her consent.
How should schools prevent the risk of HIV transmission in the school environment?
HIV cannot be transmitted through day-to-day social contact. Although the risk of HIV transmission in the school is insignificant, all schools should implement universal precautions to prevent the spread of all infections transmitted by blood, including HIV. These precautions include the following:
- All blood and body fluids should be treated as if they are infected with HIV and handled with extreme caution.
- Latex gloves should be worn by all persons attending to accidents involving blood spills.
- All wounds should be cleaned with water and disinfectant immediately and covered with a waterproof dressing.
- Surfaces contaminated with blood should be cleaned with a bleach solution.
- All schools should have a minimum of two First Aid kits available and accessible.
- Latex gloves should be available in every classroom and at every sporting event.
- All learners and educators should be provided with information on how to handle blood spills.
What about the risk of HIV transmission through contact sport?
The risk of HIV transmission occurring through contact sports is insignificant. However, should any bleeding occur, the injured player should be taken off the field and treated. The player may resume play once the wound has been securely covered and soiled clothes changed. Learners and coaches with HIV should receive medical counselling before participating in contact sport.
Do learners have the right to receive education about HIV/AIDS?
Yes. The National Policy states that a continuing HIV/ AIDS education programme should be implemented in all schools. This should be integrated into a Life-Skills programme and should be age appropriate and accurate. Parents should be informed of this programme.
May condoms be issued at schools?
The National Policy acknowledges that this is a complex issue and suggests that issues such as this are resolved taking into account the needs and values of the specific school community.
What about educators and other staff?
The National Policy on HIV/AIDS applies to both learners and educators. This means that staff in an educational setting may not be:
- Tested for HIV without their consent.
- Tested for HIV as a prerequisite for an appointment or continued service.
- Forced to disclose their HIV status.
- Dismissed or demoted because of their HIV status.
- Discriminated in any way because of their HIV status.
This is in keeping with the fair labour practices as set out in the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Equity Act.
What should be done if someone refuses to work, teach or study with a person with HIV?
Accurate information must be provided to learners, educators and parents. This should be followed up with counselling, if necessary. The situation should be resolved by the principal with the help of the governing body if necessary.
Your school HIV/AIDS policy should include guidelines on the following:
- Admission Policy
- HIV testing
- Prevention of HIV transmission
- Management of HIV/AIDS
- HIV/AIDS education programmes
- Refusal to study, teach or work with a person with HIV
Who should be involved in developing a school policy?
The governing body of the school should develop and adopt its own policy in consultation with the wider school community. This could be done through the establishment of a Health Advisory Committee for the school. The policy may not deviate from the basic principles in the National Policy and should seek to create an environment in which people with HIV will be treated in a just, humane and life-affirming way.
For more information, contact:
The Western Cape Education Department HIV/AIDS Life-Skills Programme
Tel: 021 467 2297
Please visit the National Department of Education's website for the HIV/AIDS Guidelines for Educators(in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa) and the National Policy on HIV/AIDS (Act 27 of 1996)