Two eighth graders in Lewis-Palmer Middle School learned the hard way how extreme rules can result in absurd, and arguably unfair, results. The two girls were in gym class together, the day’s exercise required repeated sprinting. The exertion resulted in an asthma attack for one, who retrieved her inhaler. Her friend was in similar distress so the girl allowed her friend to also use her inhaler
The asthmatic student had her inhaler with her in the gym that day because her mother had gotten a note from her doctor, verifying that there was a prescription for the medication and that the student might need to use it during school. The student signed a contract that set the ground rules for using that inhaler, which included rule that prohibited her from ever sharing her inhaler.
The next day, both students were called to the principal's office and questioned separately. When it was over, both girls were told they were "suspended with a recommendation for expulsion." The parents of the two girls were called to come pick them up.
Lewis-Palmer School District has a clear policy prohibiting the sharing of any medication. But according to experts, using an inhaler, even for a person who doesn't have asthma, poses a negligible risk.
Under Colorado law, four actions trigger automatic expulsion: sale of controlled drugs, serious assaults, robbery and bringing weapons to school, said Janelle Krueger, a Colorado Department of Education consultant in charge of the Expelled and At-Risk Student Grant Program. The districts set their own discipline policies.
Lewis-Palmer's policy doesn't mandate expulsion for the infraction, but it was decided that both girls would be expelled. Two weeks ago, the district sent a letter to students' families, telling them just that.
The one student was allowed to return to school after her suspension – and after her father advocated tirelessly for her. The other girl is expelled for the remainder of the year. Her grandmother is trying to find a way for her to finish eighth grade.
Lewis-Palmer Middle School doesn't have many discipline problems the Lewis-Palmer district as a whole is successful. In 2009-10, the district recorded only 157 out-of-school suspensions. Out of about 5,000 students, only three were expelled that year.
There is very little data on what happens to kids after they've been kicked out of school for an extended period. Colorado doesn't track whether expelled kids ever graduate or get their high-school equivalency certificate. But getting kicked out of eighth grade for an innocent act of sharing does not help any student to view high school with enthusiasm.