AIDS

September 10 was the first day of school for New York City children in 1985. More than 11,000 of them stayed home – not because they were sick, but because the previous Saturday, the school board announced that an unnamed child with AIDS was being allowed to attend classes. School districts tried to get a restraining order while they sued the city. Justice Harold Hyman did not issue the order, and he began hearing the case on September 13.

Misinformation was still rampant in the early stages of the AIDS epidemic, with no less than the New York Times reporting that the disease “is nearly always transmitted through homosexual contact, intravenous drug use or transfusions of contaminated blood.” Witnesses for the prosecution testified that AIDS might be contagious via a liquid medium, while defense witnesses countered that casual contact did not transmit the virus. Justice Hyman took an active role in the proceedings, assuring witnesses, “This is going to be a tough decision to make, so I’m trying to learn.” Arguments concluded on October 19. Enrollment was by then back to normal, even though slips by public officials had revealed the child was a girl in the second grade.

On February 12, 1986, Hyman ruled that children with AIDS could not be prohibited, as a group, from attending classes. This upheld a standing policy of deciding such matters case by case.