WESTMINSTER -- As school bus drivers and parents deliver students in the morning to the front door of Westminster Elementary School, they all pass a bright yellow sign that reads: "Drug-Free School Zone."
Most of the kindergartners can't read that sign, but they learned a harsh lesson of its meaning last week when two of their classmates were suspended from school for unauthorized possession of prescription medicine.
The two 5-year-old girls, whose names were not released by school officials, were suspended on Jan. 17 and 18 as a result of passing prescription medication while riding a school bus.
School Principal Larry Thompson confirmed the suspensions but did not want to talk about the incident.
"This thing needs to be left alone," he said. "I want this to be a dead issue. The parents are OK about it, and it's been dealt with."
Neither he nor other school officials would say whose medicine it was or whether anyone was injured as a result of the incident.
Edwin Davis, the school system's director of pupil services, would not talk about specifics of the case.
"Confidentiality of school incidents are of real paramount importance," he said. "It is not proper for us to go into details. We have a policy with regards to drugs and drug abuse and it applies across the school system to all kids," he said.
Several parents of children at the school thought the disciplinary action was out of line for kindergarten students.
"Suspension is a little harsh for students who are so young," said Robbi Dedmond, who has a first-grader at the Westminster school. "If they were older, maybe they would understand it. But it seems like it would have been better to just talk to them or reprimand them another way."
Another parent of a first grader, Karen Hall, also thought the suspension was not the best way to deal with the matter.
"I think that's going a little bit too far," she said. "If they were fourth- or fifth-graders, maybe they could understand something like that. What they might have needed is to be talked to, maybe."
But one parent, a volunteer at the school who asked not to be identified, said she believed the suspension may prove to be effective.
"I feel sorry for the parents whose children were involved, but at the same time, somehow the message had to be learned," she said. "All the kids are now more aware of it and the teachers are also more aware that even kids at that age can get their hands on something like that."
Despite the ages of the two children, Mr. Davis said the school system has certain expectations for behavior.
"We have expectations for kindergartners, such as being on time, complying with regulations for homework assignments, all those type of routines that are in a school system," he said.
"We recognize that kids learn and they come to school for that purpose. Part of our curriculum is substance abuse, from kindergarten through the 12th grade," Mr. Davis said.
He said he did not know if that part of the curriculum had been addressed yet in the school year at the elementary school.