Schools Have Rules: Better Dead Than Broken

Via Turley, 17-year-old Deltona, Florida high school student Michael Rudi collapsed on the floor, unable to breath.  The school nurse watched.

The school dean found the inhaler in its original packaging with the student’s name and directions for its use. He seized the inhaler because of the absence of a form. When the boy began to have trouble breathing the mother was called to come into school. It is not clear why, if they could reach the mother, they could not get telephonic approval. More importantly, with the boy having breathing problems, the school insisted that it was still more important to get a form signed than help the child. Rudi is quoted as saying “[a]s soon as we opened up the door, we saw my son collapsing against the wall on the floor of the nurse’s office while she was standing in the window of the locked door looking down at my son, who was in full-blown asthma attack.”

Rules about the possession of “drugs” in school are commonplace, almost universally forbidding their possession without approval and parental permission.  Whether an asthma inhaler or ibuprofen, the blanket rule, together with its zero tolerance analog, has become pervasive. 

Why Sue Rudi didn’t have a signed permission form for her son’s asthma inhaler isn’t clear. She should have. There were signed forms for his prior years in school, but not this year.  If you have a child with a medical condition that might require emergency relief, you don’t forget to sign the form. You don’t refuse to sign the form due to some misguided sense of entitlement. You sign the form and, if you have a problem with it, fight it later.  You don’t risk your child’s life, either out of laziness, forgetfulness or any other ‘ness.

In the same vein, you don’t let a high school kid die on the floor before your eyes.
Volusia County School officials stand by a Deltona High School nurse’s decision to refuse a student his inhaler during an asthma attack, citing a lack of a parent’s signature on a medical release form.

There is a rule about students taking drugs.  Apparently, there is no rule against allowing students to die as the nurse watches.  The school has a policy about calling 911 when a student can’t breath, which is a reasonably good idea, though it strains reason to understand why adults in charge of children in school need a rule to figure out that calling 911 (or, for the matter, giving life-saving medication) is a better idea than poking them with a stick.

Selesky said the district is looking into whether proper procedures were followed by the school, and while nurses can’t give medications without the proper authorization, it is district policy to call 911 when a student cannot breath.

Selesky could not explain why 911 was never called.

It seems obvious to me: The nurse was only on page 36 of the rule book, and the 911 rule wasn’t mentioned until page 492.  There is a rule against skimming and jumping ahead.

So many of the absurdities that come from this slavish adoration of rules end up with a child suspended or expelled over things that, under any rational assessment, fall outside the parameters of the evils sought to be eradicated by the rules.  We can, in a sense, appreciate that schools craft rules to guide teachers and administrators, given that the false security of “common sense” would produce wildly disparate results.

Schools hope to limit the particularly bad discretion of its people and guide them toward the ideals that school boards and administrators seek to impose.  We all get that.  It’s better than leaving matters relating to children in the hands of the AP English teacher who expects to become a celebrity when the next episode of  Hoarders airs.

But crafting rules intended to be absolute in their application is extremely difficult, if not impossible. The law of unintended consequences is bound to come into play.  It’s beyond the ken of most school boards, not to mention school attorneys, to create an overarching rule, though it’s incredibly easy to add in the words “zero tolerance” and bask in the applause of an ignorant community that hasn’t thought matters through.

But when the product of what seems to the casual observer to be a good way to run a school is a dead student lying on the floor a few feet away from an inhaler that would save his life, someone in a position of authority has to concede that the rule has a problem. 

The question isn’t who to blame after the child dies.  Was the mother at fault here for failure to have the signed form for this school year on file? Sure.  She screwed up.  Does the school really take comfort in the ability to point the finger elsewhere as they stand over the corpse of a student? 

Here’s an idea.  Rule 1 for all schools, to be printed on page one of the rulebook in boldface type, 24 point type, with nothing else on the page:

No student shall be left to die because of a rule.

No doubt there will be an unintended consequence of this rule, but it seems as worthy of suffering that possibility as the rule the prohibits students from being educated because their pants are too saggy.

17 thoughts on “Schools Have Rules: Better Dead Than Broken

  1. Frank

    As a mandated reporter, if something like this is happening on my scene, someone’s going to jail. Reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of a minor, quite possibly attempted murder.

    Sadly, this happens in nursing homes and assisted living as well. I get called out for a cardiac arrest and the staff is standing around with their thumbs rectally planted because they’re not allowed to do CPR, even if the resident doesn’t have a DNR/MOLST.

  2. David

    Not sure why the form was not signed but the system stinks. My high school aged daughter was recently diagnosed with nut allergies and given an Epi-pen to carry. We went to fill out the paperwork but it is not an easy process. We had a valid prescription to show but we needed to get additional signatures from the Doctors office and then it had to go through a process. The end result was several days without coverage. In this case was not an issue but, someone is going to die one day over this.
    I could understand if the district gave us a temporary approval with just the prescription and then 10 days to complete the process but having to wait extra days for an approval when the possible consequence is death is absurd. In this case she had never been allergic to this food in the past and had a moderate reaction one day. Testing confirmed the reaction and future exposures could have more serious consequences.
    What is really alarming is that right after diagnosis she was not as accustomed to being careful to avoid the foods. It was during this period that she was likely to make a mistake.

  3. Onlooker

    The death of common sense, indeed.

    We’ve succeeded in engineering common sense out of all too many areas of our lives with this nonsense. Mindless bureaucrats result.

  4. SHG

    I’m a firm believer in sound judgment based upon reason. I am not a believer in “common sense,” which is usually tossed about as an excuse for reaching a desired result without the need to have any rational basis supporting it. When they take a vote and post the results of what’s “common,” let me know. Until then, I prefer to rest my faith in sound judgment based upon reason.

  5. Kirk

    I had a mother in my office yesterday. Her six-year-old, kindergartener son carried his older brother’s pocket knife to school to show to his friends. The blade was longer than 3.5 inches long. The child was suspended for the last two weeks of the school year, and the principal wants to expel him for a year. School’s policies say that expulsion is mandatory for bringing a dangerous weapon to school, and pocket knives with blades longer than 3.5 inches re defined as dangerous weapons. The policies do not define how long an “expulsion” is to last. The principal is wrong in that he claims federal law requires an expulsion of “not less than twelve months” for carrying such a weapon, but that appears to apply to firearms, not knives.

    But the thing that bothers me most is that a child this age is deemed at law not to possess mens rea to hold him criminally responsible for his actions. He could bring a gun to school and shoot a bunch of people: HE WOULDN’T BE CRIMINALLY CHARGED WITH MURDER, but he’d dang sure get expelled for a year.

  6. SHG

    In most schools, there is no limit on blade length. Any knife would compel suspension, if not expulsion.  But a 6-year-old? Just completely irrational.

  7. Dan

    I get the sense that a lot of this school official dumbassery is the product of very bad interpretations of very bad legal advice. A school and its civil lawyers try to protect the school and its administrators from liability. Ooh, don’t do that, the lawyer said we could be liable. What seems to be forgotten either by the lawyers or the people trying to apply the legal advice that a dead kid on your hands is a major liability. Its sort of the corollary to the rule about no student being left to die because of a rule – a student being left to die is a major liability.

  8. SHG

    The nice folks on school boards who pay close attention the lawyers (because they’re “experts”) and nod like bobble heads to whatever they say, aren’t aware that their learned, untested opinions fall slightly below the voice of Jehovah from on high. 

    Municipal lawyers pontificate to fools who think their word is gospel.  They can’t conceive of how their lawyer might possibly be wrong, no less clueless. After, he’s a lawyer.

  9. Onlooker

    Well I certainly won’t argue with that. In fact I rather like that and will keep it in mind.

    In that light my point is that all too many people aren’t using any judgment or reasoning at all; just blind adherence to “rules.”

  10. John Neff

    How common is sound judgement based on reason? It seems to me that we only hear about it when it is absent.

  11. BL1Y

    Your rule is fine, but it will exist in an Asimovian hierarchic of rules, with the prime rule being “Do not endanger your pension.”

    Sure, stopping a kid from dying won’t endanger your pension. But what if something went wrong? Better to do nothing instead. Gotta keep that pension safe.

  12. SHG

    [Secret message: I don’t actually expect them to adopt my rule. That said, the people on school boards who do the adopting are elected and don’t get pensions.]

  13. Martin Budden

    I agree with the primary point of your blogpost: the absurdity of replacing human judgement with rules. So I apologise for making a slightly nitpicky point: we don’t know that the parents screwed up by not supplying the form. All we have is a statement from the school to that effect. It is entirely possible that the parents supplied the signed consent form and that the school lost it.

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