Attempting to understand the VA suspension – and proposed new policies

This was intended to be a comment on "This Teen’s Take on The Virginia Suspension" , but it turned out to be rather long and more complicated than my original thought so I figured I might also work as its own post.  This can be summerized as "I personally also feel that the current ‘Zero Tolerance’ policies are too much.  Not every high schooler self-medicates safely.  What other solutions are possible?"

Four of my friends passed away in junior and high school. One friend died from a reaction to Acetominaphen (aka Tylenol and Midol) that she borrowed from a friend and took for cramps.  Another friend died because he forgot/neglected to take his heart medication for two days.  He kept it on himself and the Nurse did not know about it.  He apparently excerted himself too hard and died in art class. These experience biase the rest of my post, which does, in fact, evolve to end with a suggested solution.

Another experience with OTC reactions: (thankfully not another death) when I was a camp counselor, we had a camper who suffered an allergic reaction to aspirin that she borrowed from another camper.  None of the campers would tell us that they lent it to her because they were not supposed to have any meds.  Us councilors were responsible for many prescriptions including birth control, and we tried to construct an environment where the campers would feel comfortable coming to us for anything else, because we needed to record the dosage and provide it to the parents at the end of their week. So she was in the emergency room and the doctors had nothing to go (other than she had an aspirin allergy, but we didn’t give her any) until later when she was able to breath and tell us what she borrowed from whom. Apparently she didn’t know that Bayer had aspirin in it!

One of my teachers died from complications from prescribed meds.  I was in homeroom early, she passed out, I got another teacher, and although teachers and the ambulance crew conducted CPR and such, she had died by noon.  So at the same time I realize that the med professionals aren’t infallible.

Now that my biases are explained, I have a question about the suspended student.

As far as I understood, bc pills need to be taken at a similar time each day. So why didn’t the student take them in the morning or after school? This way she could take them in privacy but not violate the school’s rules? I ask this not to blame her, but in wondering why the situation occurred. Did she forget to take them earlier? Or did she instead, knowing she could get caught, directly and deliberately act against the rules every day?

I realize that some people think that the school’s rules are too harsh, and as callous as it sounds, these rules are present in some part also to protect the school and the institution from parents.  Some are also required by their building’s insurance policies. And I do think that if this is the student’s first "infringement," then it should be viewed through a lens appropriate to the situation.  Her losing a week of instruction is more harmful than anything. However, the school does need to set some base rules for medicines. If another student does take OTCs or prescriptions that were not registered by the school and does suffer negative reactions to them, then the parents will wonder why the school did not keep their students safe. I had very angry parents in the emergency room, yelling at me (I was 19 at this time and head councilor for the unit of 12 14-16yo girls) that I could not be trusted to keep their 15 year old child, with a listed aspirin allergy, safe from aspirin. We were threatened with lawsuits. The organization was a non-profit, so it was settled by adopting new, police-state style rules that forced parents to sign a waver that their child had no meds on them, that if their child was found with meds, they would be removed from their program and sent home (this required the parent to drive up to get the child, 3 hours one way in some cases, so it was also punishment for the parents), and that we (staff) were allowed to search the bags. This experience shows that if the agent is the child/student, the institution can still be blamed.

I think this is an interesting discussion of the school providing the structure for students, not all who are able to make the required intelligent decision of self medication. Should they cater to the lowest common denominator? Perhaps. Is this restrictive to teenage females when they feel social pressures to hide their reproductive choices and issues (for lack of a better word), such as painful cramps? Yes! Very!

How do we reconcile this and *not* create a slippery slope of apathy that results in another student making a harmful drug choice? (Other than assuming that people won’t stupidly overreact)

One thing I’ve thought about, which is either a compromise or is continuing the same structure, is to have their be a few teachers (male or female) who have information about the OTC restrictions/allergies of students. In my high school, most all of us girls were very comfortable with our rather cool gym teacher, there was also the journalism teacher, the art teacher, the french teacher, the librarian, and two english teachers (we only had 3 english teachers, it was a small school), all female, that built rapport with the students through the years. I know I would have felt much more comfortable poking into their room on my way to another class, discretely picking up a single pack of Tylenol, Midol, or similar in the between-class bustle, having a note made of it, and take them on my way to my other class. However, do teachers need this added responsibility?

Or, could the school or institution institute a program where parents notified the health official that their student would be carrying specific substances (BC, OTC meds, some prescriptions). Sharing medicine would be discouraged. I think there’s no way the institution/school’s insurance would allow them to operate otherwise (correct me if I’m wrong, please).

Let’s continue this discussion with possible solutions that include consideration of the school’s expected responsibilities and how it can balance them with the needs of their students.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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