The parents of a student in Pennsylvania’s South Middleton School District are warning other parents after their workout-oriented son was suspended for 10 days and half the soccer season for taking vitamins at school.
Calling it a zero tolerance policy run amok, Joseph Figueiredo told WND it was like, “‘Alice in Wonderland’ does the ‘Twilight Zone.'”
The controversy began when his son, Andrew, put himself on a physical training regimen that included taking several vitamins and supplements.
Andrew was aware of school rules regarding prescription medications, so before he launched the program he checked the student handbook.
“He took it upon himself to look in the student manual and read the drug policy and medication policy,” he said. “But he did not see vitamins or dietary supplements and in his mind thought it was okay.”
School officials, however, thought otherwise. Somebody reported he was taking the vitamins, and Andrew was called into Principal Joe Mancuso’s office where he was told he was being suspended for violating the drug policy.
WND previously reported a student was threatened with a three-day suspension for simply having a pen in class that had a gun company logo, another case in which a college student was suspended for advocating for gun rights and yet another in which a student who drew a sketch of a gun was suspended.
At Boiling Springs High School, officials refused to hold the penalty in abeyance until a drug test could be done, Figueiredo said, so he went and had his own, which showed negative results for illegal or banned substances.
“His belief and ours is it was not something Andrew needed to report to the school, because it was not a drug or medication,” Figueiredo told local reporters at the time. “My son is in a program of weight-lifting and keeping himself physically fit for playing soccer year-round.”
A goalkeeper, Andrew Figueiredo was a starting player on the varsity team for four years and was serving as a team captain this year.
But the written notice the school then provided told the family Andrew had violated the “medications” policy instead, not the drug policy, for taking the vitamins and supplements the family identified as Megaman Sport, BSN Nitrix and BSN Axis-HT, all available over the counter at General Nutrition Center stores.
They hired an attorney to protest the suspension on Andrew’s otherwise clean school record, but the school board lawyer responded that school officials determined they had acted appropriately and the matter was closed.
The family’s lawyer, Dennis Shatto, said the family then sought a public apology because vitamins and dietary supplements are simply not medications and would not be prescribed by a physician as required under school policy.
A letter from the school’s lawyer, Philip Spare, said the policy was clear to him, since it prohibits “any pill, capsule, powder, liquid, inhalant, fascimile, drug paraphernalia, or other substance of whatever form or texture, which may adversely affect the health, safety, or welfare of any student…”
He said it simply wouldn’t work to allow students access to anything like this. “It would be next to impossible for school officials to approach each pill on an individual basis and to make a case by case determination as to which pills were acceptable and which pills were unacceptable,” he wrote.
School officials declined to return multiple WND calls seeking a comment, even though Andrew specifically had waived confidentiality privileges in granting officials permission to discuss the case.
The suspensions from school and the soccer team now are over, and Andrew has returned to classes and his work, so why make it an issue now?
“We’re pushing this because we wanted to reach a reasonable accommodation,” Joseph Figueiredo told WND. “We made a suggestion that the issue be addressed in a DARE assembly, and say, ‘Look this is what happened.’ It could have been win-win for everyone. But we never had the opportunity.”
He said the situation wasn’t handled by school procedures, either, because Andrew was accused verbally of violating the drug policy, then in writing of violating the medications policy, and at no time was there a drug test as school procedures specify so that the results could be confirmed. The penalty also was not delayed until those test results could be obtained, as policy outlined, he noted.
He appeared before the school board to cite his concerns, including the fact that Supt. Patricia Sanker, based on a personal telephone call to a pharmacist, had determined that one of the supplements was a steroid.
He also complained about her attitude.
When Andrew protested those were illegal, she responded: “Don’t you argue with me. They can say anything they want. It’s a steroid,” he said.
She then said, “Listen young man. I’ve already got you for 10 days [suspension], the only question now is, is it half the soccer season, or the whole soccer season,” according to Figueiredo.
At a subsequent meeting, Figueiredo told WND, the superintendent threatened Andrew with the words: “I can ruin you.”
“We thought we’d heard it all before, but such a threat of retaliation is beyond the pale,” Figueiredo told the school board in a letter.
“Don’t misunderstand;” he continued. “The South Middleton School District is a good one. That’s why we chose to send Andrew here. Good students for the most part and good teachers for the most part.”
He said he just doesn’t want the same thing happening to other students.
A forum posted by the local newspaper included a comment from “Kathy,” who suggested the school district should get sued. “They act like there are no shades of gray in rules, but there are, and we all know it.”