Assault with a deadly... Lancet

The news story caught my attention immediately.

From one of the daily newspapers in the area I grew up in Southeast Michigan and once wanted to work during or after college, the headline to this story said:"Third-grader expelled after playing with blood sugar tester."

WTF, I thought. My mind flashed to a child testing his or her blood sugar in class at a desk, and getting in trouble for that from a teacher not knowing what the sharp little device actually was.

Not the case, as I learned when reading the story that ran in the April 21 edition of The Oakland Press.

Basically, an 8-year old poked up to 13 classmates with a lancet device that a fellow student had found on the classroom floor, picked up, and started passing around for a poke-a-thon. This all happened in mid-March, and the school determined to be a serious health situation.

No, it's not clear whether we're talking about a lancet or a lancing device.

We also don't know from the newspaper coverage at this point where exactly the lancet came from. The boy's mother claimed no one in the family has diabetes and her son hadn't brought the device in, and the teacher had no idea what it even was before being told by someone.

So, there are those mysteries.

But what's the biggest shock of this story, I think, is the discipline handed down to this boy.

The school board says it has "limited discretion" in cases involving "dangerous weapons," and expelled him for 180 days - a penalty that not only keeps him out of class there at Jefferson-Whittier Elementary School in Pontac, but ALL schools in the state of Michigan.

My own lancing device, w/meter+strips in background!
The mom told the newspaper it's unfair her son is being excluded from all Michigan schools for that long. He's a good kid without a disciplinary record and is a good student, but even more problematic to her is that he's being singled out. She notes that four other children also were poking classmates with the device that's used to draw blood to test blood sugar levels, but her son is the only one being punished. She says none of the children realized the tester was considered a dangerous weapon. A girl in the class apparently found the device and poked her son, who then poked another student and so on.

My jaw dropped to the floor when reading all of this. (not only that a lancet might be a "dangerous weapon," but the punishment handed down.)

Seriously. I get the health-danger involved here, and that SOME punishment might be necessary in this case. But 180 DAYS where he's not able to attend ANY school anywhere in the state???

Way too harsh, in my opinion.

We're talking about an 8-year old. In third grade. The school totally blew what could have been a disciplinary action combined with a teaching moment. Educating this child and the others involved about the dangers of not only sharp objects they might find on the floor or outside, but what bad things can happen to make them sick if they get poked or do the same to others.

He really could have learned something from this, while being taught what he did was really bad and shouldn't be done. But instead, this good kid is out of school for six months and pretty much exposed to the criminal elements of the neighborhood.

This is what I see as an example of Zero Tolerance vs. Common Sense - something we've seen before in cases where a third-grader gets suspended for drawing a soldier with canteen and knife, and this story about a 9-year old suspended for playing with Legos during lunch when one of the little action figures was holding a two-inch toy gun.

These are examples where you seriously have to wonder what this world is coming to and what type of morons are running our schools, when THIS is the type of thing we're punishing students for.

Now, if this boy had brought this lancet device to school and just decided to start poking people with it, then I could justify this harsh punishment. But that apparently isn't the case, and so in my head this punishment isn't productive or useful - it sends a message. Does my opinion change if one of those poked-classmates obtained some blood-borne disease as a result of this? No, it doesn't. Because again, age and history and circumstance show this warrants leniency and education, even if we don't minimize the seriousness and health risk involved here.

Yes, some punishment is warranted - but NOT an expulsion this severe, because this does nothing to salvage the situation and this child's educational career. It's a knee-jerk, "feel good" political decision by a school board that is basically covering its own ass. A spineless group that with this punishment is basically saying, "See, concerned parents, we did something." And it helps them justify some blanket zero-tolerance weapon policy, designed at protecting the entire school community even at the sacrifice of a few who might not warrant the full scope of its severity.

The mom is appealing to the Michigan Board of Education, and I for one hope the state DOE overturns this decision or criticizes the board. In the meantime, the mom says her son is asking every day why he can't go back to school like he wants to. In fighting this, she says: “I’m not going to stop until he gets back in school. My child’s education is involved."

This certainly isn't a case where a Child With Diabetes is being targeted. Rather, it just by coincidence involves something connected to diabetes. In a way, maybe there is some potential concern that this rationale could be adopted by others and school officials in other jurisdictions could look to this example in determining that lancets are "dangerous weapons." That any Child With Diabetes shouldn't ever be able to have one of these finger-pokers in class or in the hallway or in school anywhere. That even 504 plans might not be good enough, and students will be required to go to a school nurses' office to have a finger blood test. Who knows. Maybe that's just in my mind.

Oh, and by the way: Where the Fructose was this teacher, while all these children were apparently poking each other with a lancet???

What do you think about this classroom lancet-poking situation?

UPDATE: Oct. 11, 2011:
After trying to stay on this story and get updates from the reporter who wrote the original article, I finally received this note:

I am sorry that I cannot give you an update to our story in April about the boy who was alleged to have poked other children with a lancet device in a classroom. The mother planned to appeal to the state, but I was told by state board of education officials that there is no process for that type of appeal. Both the school district and the family prefer to keep the issue private at this time.


Unknown said…


If the reason for expulsion was due to risk of blood borne pathogen exposure, I'd like to see some sort of documented case of a previous transmission using a lancing device. Has that even ever happened? I doubt it.

I could see the clicking offenders being punished -- you know -- "I WILL NOT POKE MY FRIENDS" 100 times or something. But complete expulsion from the entire state school system???

That in and of itself is a much larger crime.
Fae-Mom said…
I totally agree! ESPECIALLY about WHERE the TEACHER was! WTH???? Why isn't SHE suspended?!
Unknown said…
Yeah...WTH??? With the teacher. Where is the "supervision" from the school personnel? That is why I think they are handing down such a swift and severe punishment ... I wonder if there was any disciplinary action taken against the staff ... and if so, was it just as severe?
The DL said…
I wonder if the teacher gets handed a punishment as well...she obviously was in charge and how long does it take to poke 13 kids AND NOT SEE IT?? Very strange and silly. BTW what was THE WORST that was going to happen? A drop of blood? oooo watch out! so stupid
Anonymous said…
This does raise a big concern, not just because the one kid was suspended, (which all kids involved should have been for 1-7 days if you ask me, not just the one) but because this now could raise the possibility of revoking kids from testing in class or on school grounds if someone were to take it far enough.
Oh, and to our fellow DOC member... YOU GO GIRL! They'd better give you the credit for that photo. I often worry about putting pictures out there myself for others to steal.
Scott S said…
The irony, of course, is that the disciplinary actions for kids who actually bring genuine weapons can be much less thanks to a legal system that presumes all innocent until proven guilty because those cases are not handled by school disciplinary measures, but in state and/or Federal courts. You're right about a lost teaching opportunity; not only about weapons, but also about diabetes. I thought schools' missions were to teach?!
Jean said…
I think that the people in the school VASTLY over-reacted. Horribly.

However, there are children with HIV/AIDS (or another bad virus) and if one of them had been "poked" and then others poked afterwards, transmission of a deadly virus could have occurred.

Is it likely? No. Very unlikely. But the threat is serious and the children involved should have been educated on this point at a level appropriate for their ages.

Oh, and I think we should have zero tolerance for "zero tolerance" policies. Whatever happened to common sense?
Robert said…
I really enjoy your blog (I'm a type 1). My view on this issue however is contrary to yours & the comments so far - jabbing anyone with a pin, needle, lancet or anything in a classroom or anywhere is BAD and deserving of some punishment. If the kid before YOUR kid got stabbed had some blood issue eg HIV, would your opinion change perhaps? A note for the poor teacher; if anyone one of you has kids you will know how impossible it is to keep your eye on them 100% of the time, so keeping an eye on 30 is 30 x impossible? Rgds, Robert (Auckland, New Zealand)
James said…
Why is it that school officials either completely over react, such as this case, or the child with the toy gun a few months back.
Or not react at all as in 90% of bullying cases we end up seeing videos on youtube of or horrible mistreatment of an entire group of students (South Philadelphia High School comes to mind, all Asian students had to boycott the school just for someone to act in their behalf)
Why is common sense by people in charge so hard to come by? What ever happened to treating children like people and investigating a situation beyond the printed rule. It's sad really to treat a child so hostile for something so minor.
Anonymous said…
Robert: Thanks for visiting and offering some thoughts on this post! I appreciate it! In response to your question - No, that wouldn't change my view. As I mentioned in the post, I agree this is BAD and that SOME punishment is warranted. This punishment does more harm than good for this child, and does nothing to address any issues or concerns other classmates and parents may have. Rather than use this educational setting situation to educate, these school officials decided the immediate and future impact of this child (the likelihood that he'll be held back as a result of this) wasn't important. This is a poor school district and area, and this doesn't bode well for this child's future if he's out of school for 150 more official school days now. And to the teacher - supervising children is tough. I get it. But you're a teacher. If you can't do that adequately and prevent THESE types of situations from happening by kids who DON'T KNOW ANY BETTER, than you shouldn't be teaching.
Lilly said…
I have to agree that this is serious, but a 3rd grader would have no idea HOW serious, especially since the kids didn't even know what it was. This could have been used as a "teachable moment" for the whole class, so the kids would understand the dangers. As for kicking the student out for the remainder of the year, this is just one of many instances where "zero tolerance" has again gone wrong!

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