HomeSchoolZero Tollerance School PoliciesChild Suspended for “huffing” Non-Toxic Marker

4-3-08
Curse those elementary school druggies. Such an eyesore on society. Walking around in their hippie clothing, talking all that drug lingo. Always looking for new ways to get high. Always in denial. “I’m not a drug addict, I’m only eight years old,” …blah, blah, blah. Or at least that seems to be the sentiment of school staff in Westminster, Colorado, who suspended an 8-year-old boy for sniffing a non-toxic marker.

It all started when 8-year-old Eathan Harris was sitting in class at Harris Park Elementary School. He apparently got bored and colored a small area on the sleeve of his sweatshirt, using a black Sharpie marker. He held the sleeve up to his nose, and noticed it smelled good. So he sniffed the marker too. His  teacher noticed this, and sent him to the Principal’s office.

Principle Chris Benish suspended the boy for three days, saying Eathan was “huffing” to intentionally get high. In his letter suspending Eathan, he wrote that smelling the marker fumes could cause the boy to “become intoxicated.” Eathan’s father was outraged at the suspension, saying his boy has no idea
what huffing is and certainly wasn’t trying to get high. “I think it’s outlandish,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

When probed about why he sniffed the marker, Eathan shrugged his shoulders and said “It smelled good.” He adds, “they told me that was wrong.” When asked by a reporter if he knew what “huffing” was, he shyly shook his head no. After the story hit the press, and after Eathan’s parents and others complained, principle Benish backed down slightly on the boy’s punishment,
changing his suspension to one day instead of three. Yet he stands by his decision to suspend the child, remarking that it sends a clear message about zero tolerance drug policies at the school. “This is really, really, seriously dangerous,” he laments.

Only there’s a big problem with this argument. You see, Sharpies are NON-TOXIC markers, meaning they are completely safe for kids and not the type of thing a child could use to get high. They’d be just as likely to get a buzz huffing crayons, paperclips, or playground rocks, for that matter. Dr. Eric Lavonas, a toxicologist with the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center, notes that while sharpies have a strong odor, they cannot be used to get high.

“I don’t know whether it would be possible for a real overachiever to figure out a way to get high off them,” said Dr. Lavonas, “but in regular use, it’s just not something that’s going to happen,” he said. “If you went to Costco and bought 50 bags of Sharpies and did something to-them, maybe there’s a way to get creative and make it happen.” Even then such a feat would be pretty amazing.

Despite the medical evidence, Principal Benisch is standing by his guns. So are Adams County District 50 school officials, who seemed unmoved by the Poison Control Center’s expert medical opinion. Apparently, irrational fears and urban legends trump scientific validity in our schools today. (Me thinks some school officials need to go back to school.) I know we were all told to listen to the teacher, but aren’t teachers supposed to listen to reason? This is ridiculous.

“Principals make hundreds of decisions every day based on our best judgment.  And in that time, smelling that marker, I felt like ‘Wow, that’s a very serious marker,’” Benisch said.  I’m not sure which is scarier…the stubborn insistence on their stance or the statement that this type of behavior is the result of a schools “best judgment.”  He pledged to wage an even more
aggressive war on non-toxic markers going forward:  “We’ve purged every permanent marker there is in this building.”

Like totally, man.  Very serious markers … wow … serious markers, dude.  Seriously, aren’t principals supposed to be smarter than the student?  From this story it looks more like Benisch is the one who’s actually huffing something.  So beware, youngins — No huffing non-toxic materials, such as crayons, paper, clothing, skin, shoes, perfume, cologne, rocks, dirt, metal, grass, trees, flowers, plants, water vapors, and oh, let’s not forget air.  Air is non-toxic too.  (Unless you live in Pittsburg.)

Eathan served his suspension, and says he is happy to be back in school.  (When is the last time you heard a child say that?)  He still worries, though.  He confided that he’s concerned the schools disciplinary action will go on his permanent record, and may interfere with his plans of becoming a professional football player.  Don’t worry, Eathan.  You’d have to “huff” a whole lot more than that to be barred from the NFL.  Just look at the Dallas Cowboys.


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