William Campbell Douglass II, MD always seems to make me smile when he brings to our attention some of the really dumb things that the FDA, Government, Big Pharm, politicians….well, you get the idea. The list is way too long.
Wait until you read this outrageous story about a young athlete in Pennsylvania and the punishment inflicted on he and his family for taking vitamins! This is crazy!
That sound you hear is Thomas Paine spinning in his grave. Because I’ve got new evidence (as if you needed more) that common sense, which Mr. Paine famously wrote about at the time of America’s birth, is now dead and gone in the U.S. of A. And ironically, the place you’re least likely to find it is in our nation’s schools.
Recently, a student in the South Middleton School District in Pennsylvania received a 10- day school suspension for – get this – taking vitamins at school. Why? Because taking vitamins violated the school’s drug policy.
Are you laughing or trembling with rage? For me, it’s a little of both.
When I hear stories like this, I just want to grab the bush-league school bureaucrat by the collar and call him an idiot. OK, it’s not nice. But it’s so hard to argue with the idea that only an idiot would punish a student for something so absurd.
The student in question, Andrew Figueiredo, had recently begun an exercise regimen for his participation on the Boiling Springs High School soccer team.
Figueiredo is not only a four-year letterman on the squad, but also the team captain. And because he’d had the school’s zero-tolerance drug policy drummed into his skull, he even consulted the student handbook to check the drug policy before bringing the vitamins to school. While prescription medications and illegal drugs were covered, the handbook made no reference to any bans against vitamins or supplements.
School Principal Joe Mancuso, however – surely a real genius – disagreed, and slapped Figueiredo with a 10-day suspension. When Figueiredo’s outraged parents demanded an explanation, the school softened a bit, saying that Andrew had violated the school “medications” policy rather than the “drug” policy. And the suspension was still to be enforced.
In case you can’t guess what happened next, lawyers got involved. And of course the insertion of lawyers into any situation usually leads to a clear-headed and rational discussion. The Figueiredo family lawyer sought a public apology and to have the incident expunged from Andrew’s otherwise spotless school record.
The school’s lawyer countered by saying that school policy clearly prohibits “any pill, capsule, powder, liquid, inhalant, fascimile, drug paraphernalia, or other substance of whatever form or texture, which may adversely affect the health, safety, or welfare of any student…” The vitamins that Andrew had taken were the supplements Megaman Sport, BSN Nitrix and BSN Axis-HT, all of which can easily be purchased over-the-counter at most health food or nutrition stores.
Don’t worry, it gets even more ridiculous.
The school said they couldn’t remove the suspension until a drug test could be done, so Figueiredo went and got one on his own. The results were negative for any illegal or banned substances. The school did nothing. Ultimately, Andrew had to serve the entire 10-day suspension.
And even though the episode is now in the past, it refuses to die. There are allegations that the school superintendent Patricia Sanker accused Andrew that the supplements were illegal steroids (they weren’t), and because Andrew protested those comments, she threatened additional suspensions, and allegedly told Andrew “I can ruin you.” Nice, huh?
Schools are merely extensions of low-level government bureaucracies. As such, they are filled with little tin-pot dictators and careerist butt-kissers and butt coverers. Anyone who’s ever been to the Department of Motor Vehicles knows that if you give any low- level civil servant an ounce of power, they’re likely to abuse it. Schools are, sadly, no different.
How many stories just like this have you heard, where local principals and school boards go overboard enforcing silly “zero tolerance” policies, whether they’re against drugs or dress codes. I’m guessing that they believe they’ll somehow be lauded by the system that they serve for their “even-handed and equitable” approach to handling these things (i.e., the star soccer player gets no more or less consideration at Boiling Springs High than the constant truant with a long record of suspensions for fighting or drug use on school grounds). But in the end, they simply look like unreasonable bush-league despots, and they’re forced to stand their ground because it’s “their job.”
As I said earlier: no common sense.
It’s hard to make blanket statements. And the “zero tolerance” policy – like so many similar government restrictions – are put in place with the right spirit in mind. They’re there “for the good” of the students and the school. After all, shouldn’t the school be a place where no drugs are tolerated? But as I’ve pointed out before, regulations and bans in the “public interest” often lead to the loss of important civil rights. Perhaps the South Middleton School District is just administered by morons – this is the same school district that had also threatened other students with suspensions for school gun policy violations such using a pen that was adorned with the logo of a gun manufacturer. I’d say that these folks aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, but that might get me suspended because saying “knife” could violate the school weapons policy.
Regardless of the school’s “zero tolerance” drug policy, it’s very obvious that Andrew Figueiredo had no intention of getting high with the supplements he was taking. So you just have to wonder why such a silly and unnecessary mess was made by the school, when the Principal Mancuso could’ve just nipped it in the bud by saying, “OK, I know why you’re taking that. But in the future, please don’t bring those to school.” Instead, Mancuso went to Defcon 4 and dropped a suspension on the student. Why? It’s hard to say. But I can’t imagine ANYONE who hears the details of the story possibly concluding that Mancuso in particular or the school in general handled this situation appropriately.
As I’ve said before: whenever anyone in the government says they’re doing something for “the public good” – whether it’s at the federal, state, country or even local school board level – put your hand on your civil rights and hold on for dear life.
Schooling you about silly school rules,