Middle Schooler Suspended For Bringing Acne Medication To School
A typical middle school girl, 13-year-old Hayley Russell was worried about another acne flare-up when she brought her orange prescription bottle to Rachel Carson Middle School in Fairfax County, Virginia.
She placed the erythromycin on the top shelf of her locker so she could retrieve an antibiotic pill to take at lunch. And then she forgot about it.
The pills sat in her locker for months. When an administrator confronted her about them last May, acting on a tip from other girls, Hayley quickly acknowledged her mistake. But it triggered a disciplinary process that kept her out of class for more than seven weeks, banned her from even visiting Carson without official permission, and eventually forced her to transfer to another school.
Seven Weeks’ Suspension For Acne Medication?
For Hayley, the episode added a new layer of anguish to the social upheavals of middle school. Rumors churned wildly, with false accusations and painful insults about what she did to get into so much trouble. “Preggo,” a classmate wrote on her Facebook wall. “Druggie,” texted another.
Problems With Fairfax Schools’ Discipline Approach
From The Washington Post:
Hayley’s experience — as reflected in interviews and school records provided by her family — follows a pattern reported by parents in at least 18 other cases in Fairfax: Students get ousted from school for a month, two months, or longer if an appeal is filed. They go to disciplinary hearings expecting impartial reviews and find instead what they consider an adversarial process. For many, consequences include school transfers that cut off social connections and upend academics.
The Fairfax discipline system is under increasing scrutiny after Nick Stuban, a 15-year-old football player, committed suicide on Jan. 20 amid the fallout of an infraction at W.T. Woodson High School. The school board will begin a review of discipline policies Monday.
Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier said the school system interprets state law as requiring Hayley to be suspended and recommended for expulsion because she possessed a controlled substance, which includes prescription medication.
Really? There’s No Difference Between Marijuana And Acne Medication?
In Fairfax, Hayley’s case went to a hearing and her suspension was prolonged because it occurred near the end of a school year, when the small staff in the hearing office is particularly busy.
Virginia law says school boards “shall expel” students for having controlled substances, marijuana or imitation drugs at school or a school activity. But it also says special circumstances may be considered and other consequences given by school boards or through a superintendent’s designee.
At Hayley’s hearing in May, administrators reported that there was no indication that Hayley had distributed the pills, no sign of abuse and no police charges filed, according to 10 pages of notes taken by a schools employee.
The 13-Year-Old Put The Safety Of Other Students At Risk
The disciplinary ruling that arrived the second week of June said Hayley “willfully and deliberately possessed and consumed prescription medication at school, knowing that her actions were in violation of school rules.” It said she “put the safety and well-being of other students and staff at risk.”
After being suspended for seven weeks, 13-year-old Hayley was transferred to another middle school, another victim of zero tolerance bureaucracy pushed to its nonsensical limits.
According to the Washington Post, Fairfax schools’ discipline is under scrutiny after this incident. Let’s hope some good can come out of this miscarriage of justice.
Photo credit: Charles Williams via Creative Commons