Good deeds and broken rules Schools: Carroll ultimately dealt fairly with girl who shared asthma inhaler with stricken friend.

May 07, 1998

COMMON SENSE dictates that the Mount Airy Middle School student who -- against school policy and state law -- handed her asthma inhaler to a friend in the midst of an attack, shouldn't be suspended from school, barred from extracurricular activities or labeled a drug distributor on her record. Happily, Carroll County schools appear, ultimately, to have used common sense in this case.

For humane reasons, Christine Rhodes violated the rules in a moment of crisis, with no adverse consequences. She could be suspended, sent to drug education programs and barred from extracurricular activities.

None of that has happened, however, nor does it appear likely to happen. The principal, Virginia Ashmore, dealt with the girl and her parents at the school level. The most that may happen is a notation on her confidential record, which is off-limits to college recruiters and employers, and, we hope, would explain the circumstances.

This is a difficult era for teachers and principals, who find themselves caught between parents' willingness to challenge their decisions and the demand for safe, orderly schools. The result is a growing dependence on one-size-fits-all disciplinary policies and a growing reluctance to use discretion in meting out punishment.

A Baltimore County girl suspended for carrying pepper spray to school and an Anne Arundel boy found with a penknife on his key ring generated great sympathy.

The problem was not that they were called to account for breaking the rules -- prohibiting weapons in school makes sense -- but that the punishments seemed inappropriate given the lack of malicious intent and absence of negative consequences.

No one should be upset that the Mount Airy pupil was admonished. What she did was against the rules, and sound reasons exist why classmates should not share medications. One would hope the principal explained that, then praised her quick thinking and good motives and sent her on her way.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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