A Bitter Pill -- A School's Drug Policy Sours One Teenager's Experience with Glucose Tablets
by Melissa Sattley
Thirteen-year-old Eric Carr didn't think much of it when two classmates saw him taking a glucose tablet and asked to try one. Insulin-dependent since the age of nine, Eric figured glucose was harmless, something that simply kept his sugars from dropping. Little did he realize that sharing the tablets would lead to a week-long suspension from Hollenbeck Middle School in St. Peters, Missouri and a permanent blemish on his school records.
A teacher passing in the hall saw Eric giving out the tablets and asked to see them. He told the teacher they were sugar. "She didn't know what they were,"says Eric, "so she took the glucose tablets to the nurse's office."
The next day Eric was called into the principal's office and given a three-day suspension, plus another three days of in-school suspension. The two classmates who took the glucose tablets were suspended for three days. This all happened because of the Missouri Safe School Act, a law that prohibits children from sharing over-the-counter drugs. Glucose, the school faculty had determined, was a drug.
But Eric Carr's stepfather, Jim Armistead, wasn't so sure. He contacted Fred Friedberg of Can-Am Care Corporation, the distributor of the Dex4 glucose tablets which Eric had given to his classmates. Armistead wanted to know if glucose was considered a drug.
"I told him that glucose is a type of sugar - not a drug," says Friedberg. "In fact, many school nurses request glucose tablets from us for their students with diabetes."
Friedberg sent Armistead information on the glucose tablets, then put him in touch with the American Diabetes Association's Advocacy Committee which investigates discrimination issues.
Eric's parents hired a lawyer and asked Eric's endocrinologist to write a letter to the school clarifying that glucose is a harmless substance. In his letter, Myrtos Frangos, MD, wrote: "There is no 'drug' contained in a glucose tablet. Ingesting a glucose tablet could not cause harm to anyone any more than a cube of sugar could."
Still, the school stood firm. Its superintendent, Lee Brittenham, PhD, explained the Missouri Safe School Act absolutely prohibits children from sharing medication.
"I'm not a medical person, but if you were to ask any parent of a child, they would not want something handed to them in school that looked like medicine," he argued. "For all we know it could be laced with LSD. You have to take those possibilities into account."
As a result, Eric was instructed to sign a disciplinary document admitting that he was guilty of passing out drugs. "He felt like they thought he was a drug dealer," says his stepfather.
The document was placed in Eric's permanent file. He stayed home for his three-day suspension, then spent the next three days of in-school suspension in an empty classroom biding his time.
He was willing to carry out the suspension time, but he and his parents wanted the confession document removed from his permanent file. They argued the file could falsely brand their son as a drug dealer in the eyes of other school officials. The school's principal, Gary Lacey, assured Eric's parents that this would never happen.
Two weeks later a school counselor called. "She asked if we wanted Eric to be part of a group project to keep kids off of drugs," says Armistead. "She said she had chosen him because she saw that he had been suspended for distributing an over-the-counter substance and felt that made him a perfect candidate for the group."
The Armisteads, angry that Eric had been wrongly identified as a child at risk for drug abuse, contacted Principal Lacey once again. "I tried to explain to him again that glucose was nothing more than sugar," remembers Armistead.
Realizing he was getting nowhere with the school principal, Armistead turned to the assistant superintendent, Dan Brown, PhD. "He said that it wasn't the substance that mattered; it was the principle - he was passing out drugs."
Armistead pointed out that many teachers at Hollenbeck Middle School pass out candy as a reward to the students. "We'll just have to agree to disagree, then," responded Brown.
Frustrated, Armistead contacted the Missouri Affiliate of the American Diabetes Association. "They sent me some paperwork on discrimination rights, but they said they didn't have the resources to help me pursue a case against the school." The family's lawyer said it would cost at least $2,000 to take the case to court, more than the family wanted to spend.
Eight months later, the disciplinary record in Eric's file remains. And a frustrated Eric is convinced that the school acted in haste. "I don't think they (the school faculty) knew what they were doing. Before they acted, they should've figured things out."
Eric's parent's are much less forgiving. "Frankly, I'm ticked off," says Armistead. "They made up their minds before they had the facts. I had an endocrinologist and other experts contact them; still they had no influence on their decision."
Of all the school faculty contacted, only Superintendent Dr. Brittenham would speak with Diabetes Interview. Brittenham stands by Hollenbeck Middle School's decision and insists his school district provides faculty and nurses who are well versed in caring for children with diabetes.
So why then didn't they recognize a simple glucose tablet for what it was? Eric Carr and his family are still waiting for an answer.
Printed with permission of Diabetes Interview.
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