Federal Way teen expelled for sharing allergy medication

A 12-year-old student was emergency expelled from Lakota Middle School on Dec. 10 for sharing her prescription antihistamines with three allergy-suffering classmates.

The student’s parents appealed the punishment, feeling it was too severe. An arbiter under contract with the district upheld the punishment in a ruling made Dec. 17.

The school defended the expulsion, according to the arbiter’s report, citing that it has a zero-tolerance policy for the “sale and distribution” of drugs and that it “needs to send a strong message to all students that the use of drugs at school is strictly prohibited.”

“The school believed that (the student’s) presence posed an immediate and continuing danger to herself and other students and an immediate and continuing disruption to the learning environment,” reads the report.

The student’s sharing of the allergy medicine was brought to the school’s attention Dec. 10 by a parent of a student who was given the antihistamines, according to the arbiter’s report. The student who gave out the medicine was then interviewed by assistant principal Obadiah Dunham, who determined that the student had given out the antihistamine loratadine. Federal Way police were also summoned to interview the student.

The student “said she thought she was just helping her friends,” reads the police report. “In speaking with (the student), I was unable to prove that she had any criminal intent of selling the drugs or giving them to friends due to their effects.”

Dunham discovered that the student had been giving the loratadine to three classmates over a period of several weeks. It was at that point Dunham made the decision to expel the student. Her three classmates were each given 20-day suspensions.

The arbiter’s report notes that Dunham “believes that too many students are aware of the incident and that the disruption would be significant if (the student) were allowed to return” to school.

District spokeswoman Diane Turner said that the three students who took the medication had not appealed their punishments, but were given the opportunity to reduce the time if they underwent drug and alcohol assessments.

Turner said that the punishments were handed down after a “thorough” investigation.

“We don’t take this situation lightly,” she said.

The police report detailing the matter was obtained by The Mirror on Dec. 20. At that time, Turner would not comment on whether further misdeeds by the student were discovered that were not included in the police report, citing the federal Family and Educational Rights Privacy Act. The district released the arbiter’s report Tuesday after a public records request, which reveals little more than the police report about the incident, adding that the student had been sharing the allergy medicine since October.

According to the district’s policies, any student who is expelled can appeal and have a hearing on the issue. The district contracts with arbiters to conduct hearings. In this case, the arbiter was John R. Olson, a judge at Kirkland Municipal Court.

The expelled student has never been in trouble before and performs well academically, according to Olson’s report.

When asked whether the expulsion order was too severe, Turner cited the district’s zero tolerance policy toward drugs, and the need for the district and the school to ensure the safety of all students.

“The bottom line is the health and safety of the students,” Turner said. “It’s very clear in our policies.”

Loratadine is the name for an antihistamine that is an ingredient in several allergy medications, including over-the-counter drugs like Claritin, Alavert and Dimetapp.

The district has several policies that pertain to drugs and alcohol, illicit or not. A policy on “medication at school” clearly outlines that “no student may give, dispense, or administer any medication or remedy to another student.” It allows students to carry a day’s dose of prescription medication with them, as long as they have a permission slip from their parent or doctor.

Another policy titled “student conduct” says that students cannot “ … illegally use, possess, sell, distribute or be under the influence of drugs, alcohol, mind‑altering substances, medication not prescribed by a physician and approved in writing by the parent/guardian … .” The punishment connected with that section says that a student may be expelled or given a long-term suspension on a first offense, but does not require such punishments.

The district also has a group of offenses that are treated with “zero tolerance:” arson, death threats, carrying explosives or weapons, and the “sale of drugs, alcohol or mind-altering substances.” The way the rule is written seems to indicate that only the selling of illicit substances is treated with zero tolerance. When asked about this, Turner said that she would not argue the semantics of how the policy is written.

“Regardless whether the intent was selling or giving it away, the real issue was that it was determined that the student presented an immediate and continuing danger to students and a disruption to the education process,” she said.

There is yet another policy titled “tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs and mind-altering substances,” but it does not specifically mention anything about students sharing prescribed medicine and speaks only to “use and possession.”

Booklets that contain these policies are given to students at the beginning of each school year, Turner said, and that each student and parent is required to sign them.

The student and her parents could appeal Olson’s ruling by going in front of the school board. The family had until Dec. 22 to make such a request.

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