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?