Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Unintended Consequences

I first heard of zero-tolerance drug policies in local schools at a family dinner. My cousin, who was in high school at the time has allergies. However, if they get bad enough that she has to take a cough medicine* or a decongestant she had to either stay home from school since most need to be taken every four to six hours, or go to school and if things got bad, call to get an early ride home. (Fortunately her father is a telecommuter, so works at home most days.)
Now, I understand that between the growing list of substances people take in an attempt to get high, and the risk that a student will unintentionally cause an adverse reaction by sharing a pain reliever with a friend that schools felt the easiest rule was the so-called zero-tolerance policy which states that students may not have any kind of pill (or apparently pretend pills, according to the WaPo article).
However, a Fairfax County student is in danger of being expelled because she took a birth control pill on school property. (She did have a prescription for it.) Now, yes, she broke a rule. However, here's why zero tolerance ends up hurting more than it helps - the punishment she received (two weeks suspension, the expulsion is under review) is exactly the same as what she would have received if she brought in heroin. See, the zero tolerance policy not only forbids all forms of drugs it treats them all the same. Yes, being in possession of a drug you got from a doctor with a valid prescription is the same - under the school policy - as having or using an illegal drug.
But the good news is, the same article mentions that now Maryland students can use sunscreen without a doctor's note.

*Fairfax County does allow for cough drops, although I imagine that does not include cough medicine.
**Hat tip to DCist for the link.