Monday, 13 October 2003

Internet Time

Here's a story from Yahoo News, quoted by the Wall Street Journal on Opinion Journal "Best of the Web", also the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and many blogs. Not forgetting Overlawyered.
A teenager was disciplined for sharing medication used to treat asthma, but he said it saved his girlfriend's life, News2Houston reported Wednesday.
Andra Ferguson and her boyfriend, Brandon Kivi, both 15, use the same type of asthma medicine, Albuterol Inhalation Aerosol.

Ferguson said she forgot to bring her medication to their school, Caney Creek High School, on Sept. 24. When she had trouble breathing, she went to the nurse's office.

Out of concern, Kivi let her use his inhaler.

"I was trying to save her life. I didn't want her to die on me right there because the nurse's office (doesn't) have breathing machines," Kivi said.

"It made a big difference. It did save my life. It was a Good Samaritan act," Ferguson said.

But the school nurse said it was a violation of the district's no-tolerance drug policy, and reported Kivi to the campus police.

The next day, he was arrested and accused of delivering a dangerous drug. Kivi was also suspended from school for three days. He could face expulsion and sent to juvenile detention on juvenile drug charges.

The mothers of both teenagers are angry.

"My son will not go to jail. This is ridiculous," said Theresa Hock, Kivi's mother. "I believe he shouldn't be punished at all because he was helping her. She was in distress."

"If he hadn't helped her, she would have passed out or died or something because her asthma's been really bad this year," said Sandra Ferguson, Andra's mother.

The school principal said he couldn't do anything about it since Kivi not only broke school rules, but also allegedly violated state law.

"It's simply a matter that it's classified as a dangerous drug. It's an inhaler form, but yet, if it had been in pill form or any other, it's still classified as a dangerous drug," said Greg Poole, the Caney Creek principal.

"Would Caney Creek had want Andra to have died rather than my son to help her?" Hock said.

Poole said the nurse never considered Andra to be in a life-threatening situation.

The school district will hold a hearing on the matter Friday.
Well, before I started commenting, I thought I'd do a bit of checking. So I wrote an e-mail to the School Principal. Within a few hours, I got a very courteous reply. Here's a quote from it, used with explicit permission:
  • No student was ever in any life-threatening situation. Student confidentiality does not permit us to be specific but it has already been reported in a Houston paper that the student in question went to the clinic for a minor headache. During both incidents, three clinic personnel were present including a registered nurse.
  • No student was ever expelled. We had a mandatory expulsion hearing where we could finally use discretion. Our decision is that while the student's actions could have been harmful, it does not merit expulsion. So why was it portrayed as an expulsion? State law requires an automatic expulsion hearing when dangerous drugs are involved.
  • No student is "in jail". The police are forced by mandatory
    requirements to send the case to the juvenile system but they did not accept the case based on our expulsion hearing.

Is this much ado about nothing? No. It is sad that our nurses and police do not have more discretion without violating the law. Where is the common sense? Our answer is that common sense did prevail. It just did not happen with internet-like speed. The system is set up to err on the side of caution when drugs are involved. It is also sad that many have labeled our school because of erroneous information.
There's a man who can take the time and trouble to write a courteous note to someone all the way in Australia, while putting out the fires of a blaze of publicity at home. And be tactful in telling me I was full of it. If ever he gets tired of being principal of a Texas High School, I'd suggest the rather less demanding job of Secretary of State. Good on you, Doctor Poole.

It's an interesting world where an overly-hyped story can get out so quickly, but also where someone on the other side of the planet can do some checking and myth-exploding, all within less than a week.


While contacting one of the interested parties in a dispute is certainly worth doing, doesn't it usually get called "getting the other side", rather than "fact checking"? It's not as though the Principle of the school is a disinterested observer, after all...
::Brett Bellmore

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