Third Grader Suspended in Sharpie Sniffing Flap

Apr 06 2008 Published by under Featured News

Imagine the plight of the public school principal when faced with this peculiar circumstance – What do you do when one of your teachers sends an 8-year-old student to your office for sniffing Sharpie ink? Earlier this week, that was the very problem facing Chris Benisch, principal of Harris Park Elementary School in Westminster, Colorado. Third grader Ethan Harris had colored part of his shirt-sleeve with a black Sharpie marker, and was sniffing the stain during class. His teacher noticed, and sent Harris to Benisch for appropriate punishment.

I’m not an elementary school principal, and I’m not blessed with children, so I’m hard pressed to say what I would do if a child in my care was sniffing a marker. Benisch’s initial reaction was to suspend Harris for three days. Ethan’s parents were understandably perplexed by the relatively harsh sentence, and after they made a stink (so to speak), the suspension was reduced to one day.

Still, suspending a child for sniffing a marker even for one day seems unnecessary. If Harris wasn’t paying attention in class, I think the embarrassment of a trip to the principal’s office is adequate punishment. But according to 9 News in CO, Benisch doesn’t agree:

Benisch stands by his decision to suspend Harris, saying it sends a clear message about substance abuse.

“This is really, really, seriously dangerous,” Benisch said.

In his letter suspending the child, Benisch wrote that smelling the marker fumes could cause the boy to “become intoxicated.”

If this is the kind of bureaucratic paternalism I can expect from the public education system, I’m home-schooling. Benisch couldn’t conceivably have any idea how dangerous sniffing a Sharpie is. He’s a principal, not a toxicologist. But because Harris’ sniffing behavior loosely resembles “getting high,” Benisch isn’t ashamed to fearmonger about how really, seriously dangerous it is to sniff a Sharpie.

Luckily, 9 News did interview an actual toxicologist for their report. Dr. Eric Lavonas said that non-toxic markers like Sharpies can’t be used to get high. Hence the term “non-toxic.” In other words, Ethan Harris was suspended for one day for doing something that wasn’t making him high, but that his teacher and principal thought might be making him high. It’s like suspending a child for rolling up a piece of paper and pretending to smoke.

Government employees have a habit of overreaching with their authority, of believing that they possess more knowledge than they really do, and of being proud to make ill-informed decisions as long as they are perceived as acting with good intentions. And Barack Obama wants government employees to be responsible for your health care.

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