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Is Zero-Tolerance Too Much?

If your child’s school is anything like mine (or like most schools these days) than they probably have pretty strict rules on medications and sharing food. Maybe your school even has bans on things like peanut butter. From time to time I hear parents gripe about these things.

But not me.

I have had allergies to certain medications my entire life (even discovering new ones as an adult). So taking other people’s medications has always been a serious situation to me. I’ve taken antibiotics that were just lightly coated with penicillin (my main allergy) and had a reaction. It’s scary! Though my kids don’t seem to have any allergies that I know of yet, I do have friends who have children with life-threatening allergies to peanut butter and other things.

Again, it’s scary. So I’ve never had a problem with these rules, as inconvenient as they can sometimes be.

But at Lewis-Palmer Middle School in Monument, Co where two girls, Breana Crites and Alyssa McKinney used to be in gym class together, they’ve taken it a bit far. Or did they?

One day after finishing gym class Breana was out of breath and complaining that her chest hurt. She then used her friend Alyssa’s inhaler (which Alyssa carried legitimately for her Asthma with permission). The girls can’t seem to agree on whether Alyssa offered (Breana’s claim) or Breana asked to use it (Alyssa’s story). The inhaler didn’t help and Alyssa told Breana to go see the school nurse. Feeling jittery and lightheaded Breana waited in the nurse’s office until her aunt came to pick her up.

The next day both girls were called into the principal’s office and questioned. They were then “suspended with a recommendation for expulsion.” You see, Lewis-Palmer School District has a very strict “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to sharing medication.

Alyssa was allowed to return; Breana was expelled.

The district is being vague about the details of the decisions and both parents are unhappy. The girls are no longer friends.

Now as I stated above, I fully support strict policies on sharing medications. Fully support. But zero tolerance always makes me nervous. Especially when it comes to something like this.

According to Dr. Henry Milgrom of National Jewish Health, using an inhaler, even for someone who doesn’t have asthma, poses a negligible risk, “And it pales in comparison to not treating an attack,” he said. “We discourage patients from sharing medication, but in a situation where a person is in distress,” those rules don’t apply, he said.

Now compare that piece of medical wisdom to the possible consequences of expulsion. According to the Center for Disease Control, “Out-of-school adolescents are also more likely to smoke; use alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine; and engage in sexual inter- course. Suicidal ideation and behavior may be expected to occur more often at these times of isolation among susceptible youth. The lack of professional assistance at the time of exclusion from school, a time when a student most needs it, increases the risk of permanent school drop-out.”

So yes, kids who share medication and break this school policy should be punished. In fact I don’t even think making an example of them by suspending them was that big of a deal. This can be serious, but at the same time is one girl trying to help another (misguided as the attempt may have been) really ground for expulsion?

I don’t think so. Don’t make ignorance a crime. Especially if this wasn’t a widely known or even understood policy (I have no idea how much knowledge students or parents had of this policy).

What do you think? Is sharing medication, under any circumstances, grounds for expulsion? Or do you think schools should rethink zero-tolerance policies such as these?

14 Responses to “Is Zero-Tolerance Too Much?”

  1. Peter Schott

    Read the description and yes, 0-tolerance is too much. It usually turns into Zero-common sense. Kids expelled or suspended for making a gun sign with their fingers (while playing some cops/robbers type game or whatever), kids kicked out for having an aspirin on them, and other totally ridiculous situations that 20 years ago would have gotten a "don't do that again" and everyone would move on.

    Yes, sharing meds can be bad. Don't do it. If you did (as in this case), don't do it again and explain why. If it's still a problem after that, you have a different story.

    I'm definitely against zero-tolerance policies. There's almost _always_ a chance for a reasonable discussion to take place rather than just following the letter of the law. If a kid has medicine in their backpack that they forgot was there, give the family a chance to explain. Knife from a camping trip left in a backpack? Once again – give them a chance to talk before saying "this rule says you're expelled". We've swung way too far into the zero common sense zone that it's past time for a corrective swing the other way – not to total leniency, but to a decent middle ground.

  2. Teresa Moore

    This irritates me that this girl was expelled! I can understand zero tolerance for guns, drugs, knives and the like. I check my daughter's backpack everyday to make sure she did not pack anything in there that might be considered againist zero tolerance like a butter knife or even a pair of nail clippers. What happened to warning the girl and talking to her parents and her about the dangers of what happened? The girl probably saw her friend in duress and did what she thought at the moment would help her, because she knew, having asthma herself, about having trouble breathing. Sad, that it had to come to this, where the girl was expelled, families got hurt and friendship were destroyed.

  3. Kelly Blackwell

    Zero policy is, in my opinion, just plain lazy and shows a simple unwillingness to communicate. I am tired of seeing good kids get the boot for a simple misunderstanding. They are kids. They make mistakes. These kinds of things really need to be dealt on a case by case basis. I am amazed at the kind of garbage that will be tolerated (i.e. bullying), but something like this gets blown way out of proportion.

  4. Cindi

    What a call?! I have worked in schools for 6 years and as a classroom assistant, I wasn't
    allowed to administer a child's medicine. The school nurse or the classroom teacher could.
    Even though the girl offered her inhaler as a kind gesture, it could have been something that
    could have hurt the other girl or even have a severe reaction. Student's should immediately
    get the teacher nearby or get the nurse…Thanks, Cindi

  5. Farrah

    Wow. Zero-tolerance is such a hard road to go. In the example of this story- yes, the one girl who loaned her inhaler did use poor judgement- but to be expelled? When I was teaching one student gave another one of his pills. The student ended up getting very ill and it was bad news for everyone. In that case- I do think it was an example where the 'loaner' should have been expelled- as should they both. But not in the case of the inhaler. Too bad they can't see it as a case by case basis.

  6. Kathy Hanley

    Recently at our school a fight broke out. Now, we have zero tolerance for fights. The person that started the fight got suspended and the person that was attacked did not even though she fought back. You are not allowed to fight back but in this instance the fight happened in the cafeteria which is on camera and the entire incident was filmed. There are times that zero tolerance shouldn't count and the inhaler incident may have been one of them.

  7. PolishK85

    This zero-tolerance is absolute hooey. This girl shouldn't be expelled and if she's expelled, why not the other? That's like arresting someone for buying drugs but allowing the drug dealer to roam free.
    At any rate, the rule is preposterous. The girl who took the inhaler was in clear need of medical attention and the other did what she thought she needed to do to save the girl's life.
    I went to public schools and, under the rules, should have been expelled if I were caught for my medications. You see, I carried zantac (I had and still have very serious GERD), tylenol, and Midol with me at all times. I had no problem sharing these medications if someone else needed them (and let's be real, the nurse's office giving us cough drops isn't going to cure our menstrual cramps!).
    I think standard over-the-counter medications should be fine in high school aged students. Any child over the age of 12 should understand their allergies and risks.
    The most these girls should have received is a detention or suspension of a single day. Funny how children barely receive any repercussions for blatantly beating the crap out of one another.

  8. alicia zirjacks

    I believe that zero tolerance is too much. Each individual sitatution should be looked at. By sharing her inhaler, she could have saved the other girls life. I think if they were abusing the medication, it would have been very different,

  9. Holly S.

    I think the girls should have been talked to about this without the expulsion; it's a bit much for kids to comprehend. By example, we are teaching our children zero tolerance.

  10. Hannah D

    I think zero tolerance is too much. There is almost always a valid exception to every rule in my opinion

  11. Wendy T

    I think this is a case of someone not being discerning – and just following procedure blindly. I always encouraged my employees to think, consider, and make the best decision for the individual situation at hand.

    Clearly this was not done here, at the expense of a young girl. Such a shame.

  12. kat j

    I think that if it is a needed medication, with a physician order and parent permission it should be allowed to be carried on the student. Exspecially the as needed ones! What about the kids who need as needed inhalers or as needed glucose or even those that need as needed pain control because of a disability or illness.?

  13. mechele johnson

    I think if it is a necessary medication such as asthma medicine it should not be punishable. My son has asthma, and if he were to have a sudden attack at recess and didn't have his medicine, I would be absolutely outraged if the school didn't seek out another studen with an inhaler to use for him.


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