The Unwanted Test

It wasn't part of the school curriculum, and for one girl who is HIV-positive, it was a bad idea

William Blouin, a nurse practitioner in clinical immunology at Miami Children's Hospital, treats a number of children with HIV and AIDS. Blouin was extremely concerned to hear about Brandy's distress and the "haphazard" manner in which he believes the school allowed the testing to occur. From long experience he knows that many kids with HIV are constantly afraid other people will somehow find out they are infected and shun them. He also thinks a school is not the right place for testing because discovering you have the virus is emotionally devastating. He thinks it's the kind of thing that would be better handled by healthcare professionals who are fully prepared to treat an adolescent. "We know suicide is an issue for children in high school," he says. "We know peer pressure is an issue for children in high school, and they may not feel like they can opt out of testing. As much as I don't want to see HIV spread further than it has, I can't see that [schools] are well equipped for this."

Junior ROTC is an elective high school course generally taught by retired military personnel. It is unclear whether Welp was familiar with the district's rules regarding HIV education and testing, or how his effort expanded beyond his class. "No one was forced to do the testing," Welp maintains. "Nobody's arms were twisted." He referred all other comments to the school's principal, Manuel Garcia, who did not return several calls. Neither did Marisol Quiñones from the National School of Technology, who Barnett says organized the school's involvement. (The health department's Ledan says that because NST is not registered to provide testing, there may have been a breach of protocol. "We will investigate," she promises.)

Care Resource's Barnett admits it was unusual to be asked to perform testing at a school site, but he defends what happened at Braddock. "The students were pleased because they don't have services out there," he argues. "A lot of them are sexually active, let's face it."

There are some unexplained discrepancies in the story New Times was able to piece together. For instance, district officials and Welp say nearly 1000 students participated in the presentation, but Barnett guesses the number was more like 300 to 400 kids. The district says about 180 students were tested, but Barnett claims the number was closer to 130. And Barnett says none of the students tested positive. Yet Brandy says she was among those tested and she has been HIV-positive for years.

Barnett expresses confidence in his testing. "The lab doesn't lie," he insists. "I think you were misinformed by this young lady. Your information was definitely incorrect." Blouin, however, says there is always a small possibility for a so-called false negative result, a possibility that increases during mass testing. The consequences of a false negative, he adds, can be dire because it creates a false sense of safety. Even worse, for those who already know they're infected, it can provide an excuse to deny the truth. "Denial is a very primitive defense," Blouin says. "I've had kids who've decided they don't have it and stop taking their medicine. One child always sticks in my mind. He decided to stop taking his medicine and was dead two years later."

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