Monday, April 6, 2009

Bureaucracy Goes Too Far In Fairfax County

This just in: a Fairfax County student has been suspended for 2 weeks and is under serious consideration for expulsion. Her crime? Possession of birth control pills.

The teenager (whose name has not been released) was caught discreetly taking her pill during Oakton High School’s 25-minute lunch break. According to school officials, this constituted a serious violation of the school district’s zero-tolerance policy on drugs. An honor roll student and talented athlete, she was nonetheless given the maximum permissible suspension; her case was referred to a panel of school officials, who are now deliberating the possibility of expulsion. This punishment, as per the Fairfax County Handbook of Student Responsibilities and Rights, is equivalent to the one she would have gotten had she brought a gun to school.

Even putting the debatable effectiveness of such zeal aside, this ruling by school officials is nothing short of ridiculous. Though Fairfax County mandates that the school nurse administer prescription drugs, this is a highly impractical rule that few students follow. In overcrowded Fairfax County schools, many students must wait more than their allotted 25 minutes in the lunch line, even without the complication of a visit to the nurse’s office. By the time the nurse (a relative stranger, incidentally, with whom a teenager might not be comfortable) administered her medication, the student would be unable to buy lunch during her lunch break, let alone spend time with friends. And yes, it may have looked like she was popping a different drug – a Ritalin, perhaps, which is explicitly forbidden in schools when not given to the school nurse beforehand. However, it is easy enough to learn, once a student has been caught, that the medication is in fact a birth control pill, and alter judgments accordingly. Perhaps it would be wise for officials to take these factors into account, discussing a change in timing with the student or implementing a new system in the nurse’s office, rather than irrevocably marring her record and exposing her private choices to her peers.

From the Washington Post article on the subject, it would seem that the student was behaving in a mature manner in regards to her own health and safety. And in a school system so plagued with teen pregnancy worries, it seems counterintuitive to penalize a young woman for making informed, responsible choices.

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