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StoryCorps: For a Schoolboy With AIDS, a Principal Opened Doors — By Opening His Arms

Nilsen may have welcomed John — but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t cautious at first. For a while, Nilsen says, he would spray alcohol on John’s desk to keep it clean. But eventually he arrived at a conclusion: “This is ridiculous. We’re gonna treat him no different than we’d treat any other child in the room.”

This sentiment was shared by John’s classmates, as well: Nilsen recalls that, if anybody asked the kids in the room who had AIDS, each of them would reply: “I have AIDS.”

“I remember one time, one of the parents came to me and said, ‘Just tell me who it is,’ ” Nilsen says. “And I said to him, ‘I cannot do that.’ He says, ‘Just tell me who it is. I won’t tell anybody.’ And I said, ‘No, you’re not gonna get it from me.’ ”