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Ryan Returns to School

Title: Media Credited in Return to School of Teen with AIDS

By: Associated Press

Date: October 12, 1986

Source: Indianapolis Star

News coverage of the battle by young AIDS victim Ryan White to return to school educated the public about the disease but sometimes sensationalized the story.  Ryan’s mother and his former principal said Saturday.

“I truly believe the coverage that was given really helped Ryan… go back to school,” said Ron Colby, the Western Middle School principal. “Ryan’s story had AIDS in the forefront of everyone’s mind in the country.”

Ryan’s mother Jeanne White, said she sometimes has felt that the news media blew Ryan’s case out of proportion and violated her family’s privacy. But in general, she said, reporters have “done a good job of handling a sensitive issue.”

Dealing with a national contingent of reporters was frustrating. Colby told the fall meeting of the Indianan Associated Press broadcaster’s Association.

The new media “created an excited atmosphere in what really was a pretty calm school situation,” said Colby, who criticized reporters for showing isolated protests rather than the overall picture.

Reporters focused on the 30 children who were withdrawn from school by parents who feared for their children’s safety, but they did not show that “365 other children were still I the school building,” he said.

Showing the fight by a small group of parents was “lending credibility to what these people are doing,” he said.

Ryan, a 14-year-old from Kokomo, contracted acquired immune deficiency syndrome through contaminated blood treatments for hemophilia.

AIDS victims most often are homosexual men and intravenous drug abusers. The virus is passed through contact with blood or blood products.

Ryan was barred from seventh-grade classes in July 1985 after school officials said they feared his disease could spread to other students.

After a lengthy legal battle between the Whites and parents opposed to Ryan’s admittance to school, a judge ruled in April that Ryan posed no health threat to other children and could return.

He was promoted to the eight grade and attends Western High School in Russiaville.

Colby also said that when Ryan first returned to school after winning his appeal in court there were no protests until a dozen high school students decided to skip classes and make a statement and reporters flocked to their side.

Mrs. White told the broadcasters, “We had some good times and some bad times, but we’ve been able to cope pretty well.”

When asked if she was happy with the amount of AIDS research being conducted, Mrs. White said, “When you’re stuck in a situation where there’s an incurable disease, there’s not enough.”

But, she said, Ryan has been approved for a new experimental drug, AZT, or azidothymidine, which health experts say has shown positive results in initial tests. His doctors, however, have not decided whether they want Ryan to receive the drug because of side effects, she added.

David McCarty of the Indiana State Board of Health said the problem of AIDS in the schools probably would die down because children who have AIDS in most cases contracted it through blood transfusions before it was possible to test blood for the AIDS virus.

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