School punishes pupil for helping friend in asthma attack Loan of inhaler violated zero-tolerance drug rule


A 12-year-old honor student in Mount Airy is paying the price for committing a random act of kindness.

Christine Rhodes' school record is marred, her dreams of playing in the school band jeopardized. Her crime: She shared her asthma medication with a fellow student who was having a severe asthma attack.

Brandy Dyer, 13, had the attack while riding the bus home from school April 22. She was gasping for air and numb in her feet and hands. So, as the bus driver dialed 911, Christine gave Brandy her asthma inhaler.

"I did what I thought was right -- I tried to save my friend's life," said Christine, a sixth-grader at Mount Airy Middle School in Carroll County. "Given the chance, I'd do it again. And I hope she would do the same for me."

Under school board regulations, Christine's good deed violates a zero-tolerance drug policy. Sharing prescription medication is punishable by suspension and mandatory drug education or treatment programs.

Christine was not suspended and won't be required to take part in any drug education or treatment programs. However, she could be declared ineligible for extracurricular activities, and for the next three years, her school record will show that she distributed a prescription inhalant drug, according to Christine's mother, Laura Rhodes.

"I understand the school's drug policy, and I want to make it clear that I believe it's a good one," Rhodes said. "I just think it needs to be modified to take into account situations like this, because not every situation is so straight and narrow."

School officials learned about the exchange of medication on Wednesday, when a reporter called to ask about the incident, Rhodes said. The bus driver had not noticed Christine's deed, Rhodes said.

Neither Mount Airy Middle School Principal Virginia Ashmore nor Brian Lockard, superintendent of Carroll County schools, would discuss the details of Christine's case.

"There is a procedure to be followed, and that was done. The principal used her discretion and the matter has been taken care of," Lockard said. "That's really all I can say."

The school board's zero-tolerance policy is explained in a student code of conduct. Christine, like other students in Carroll, had to sign a statement at the start of the school year that said she understood the code. On Friday, Christine said she did not recall the specifics of the statement.

"I don't care what the policy says," said Donna Cianci, Brandy's mother. "As far as I'm concerned, Christine was an angel by my daughter's side that day. I know how severe Brandy's asthma attacks can be. If Christine hadn't helped her, she could have died."

Cianci isn't the only one troubled by the zero-tolerance policy, which gives principals scant leeway. Some educators say such regulations send the wrong message.

"Zero-tolerance policies can be good because they establish a standard of behavior. But when there's no flexibility in interpreting what they mean, there tends to be this mindless application of an essentially good concept," said Peter Leone, education professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, and director of the Center for the Study of Troubling Behavior.

Several children have become overnight celebrities because they unwittingly violated a zero-tolerance policy. Students across the country have been suspended for carrying Midol or having a kitchen knife in their lunch boxes.

Last year, John Destry, a student at Southern Senior High School in Anne Arundel County, was suspended for carrying a penknife on his key chain. In 1996, Chesapeake High student Jodie Ulrich was expelled for bringing pepper spray on a key ring to the Baltimore County school. A county judge reinstated her.

Like Christine, both Destry and Ulrich were honor students.

At home Friday evening, Christine said she would like to work with school officials to change Carroll's zero-tolerance policy.

"What else can I do?" she asked. "I know I don't deserve this."

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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