It’s Time for Illinois to Smarten Up

Here’s a remarkably stupid bit of Illinois law that has annoyed and incensed us for about 20 years: school principals across the state must be given the names of HIV-positive students in their schools.  Furthermore, principals must disclose the names of those students to school superintendents.  And principals may identify those students to school nurses, teachers, and certain other staff who have a “need to know.”

Why oh why does some school superintendent need to know that 11-year-old Johnny has HIV?  Why does his algebra teacher?  Considering that we know with absolute scientific certainty that HIV is not transmitted through daily contact at school, why does anyone in a school need to know?

Why is Illinois the only state in the union that requires the names of HIV-positive students be turned over to school administrators?

This idiotic law has long been defended but a single, ignorance-fueled argument: “We need our schools to be safe.”   The porous logic behind this defense ignores a basic fact: a school is safest when you don’t know which students have HIV (or any other blood borne pathogen).  Why?  Because there will always be untested, undiagnosed students — and if a school imagines it knows whose blood is infectious and whose blood isn’t, they’re asking for trouble.

In any case, all blood spills should be handled in precisely the same way, using universal precautions.  No special clean-up procedures are required for the blood of someone who is HIV-positive.  And if a school doesn’t adhere to universal precautions, it’s already an unsafe school.

If you want the clearest picture of the absurdity our principal notification law, consider this:  if an 18-year-old high school senior tests HIV-positive, his school principal must be notified, but his parents cannot be told.

But the good news is that our semi-enlightened state legislature is on the verge of striking this moronic law from the books.  The Illinois House has already voted in favor of a bill to rescind the principal notification law, and the Senate is due to debate it any day  passed it just yesterday.  And a little birdie told us that Governor Quinn will sign it. And then Illinois will be a tiny bit less stupid.

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