Normandy High School students have more on their minds these days than their studies, their undefeated football team, and their state’s still too-close-to-call presidential election.
All that faded instantly on October 13, the day school officials informed parents they had reason to believe that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, might have been spread “among some Normandy Senior High School students.” Subsequent rumors pegged the number of exposed students at 50.
Normally, epidemiologic investigations of HIV exposures proceed quietly and in confidence, but Stanton Lawrence, the suburban St. Louis school district’s superintendent said the potential scope of the exposure mandated that he inform all students.
Lawrence knew the story would be leaked to the press. It was. There was some sensationalism and damage to the school’s reputation. And there was some panic. For example, parents from a rival school inundated officials with concerns about whether it was safe to play a football game against Normandy.
Yet Lawrence stands by his decision. “Given the choice between spurious headlines and meeting these kids’ needs, I’m going to try to meet these kids’ needs,” he told the New York Times.
Jamar McKinney, a Normandy High junior probably spoke for many students when he told the New York Times, “it’s the only thing we talk about. Who could have HIV, who started it, and how many people may have it.”
But it’s just talk right now because there isn’t a lot of information out there. We know the potential mass exposure had nothing to do with tattoos. We know that one person did test positive, but we don’t know whether that person was a student at Normandy…and that’s about all we know.
By the way, Carl Hudson, Normandy’s principal assured those parents it was safe to play the football game. So they played and Normandy won, advancing into the playoffs with a 9-0 record.
The kids at Normandy High could use more good news. After the story broke last month, all students were offered free HIV testing. 97% chose to be tested. Results become available this week.