By: Melissa Sattley
Last May, DIABETES HEALTH ran a story about 13-year-old Eric Carr who was suspended and branded a drug dealer by his Missouri middle school for passing out glucose tablets. We received many letters and phone calls from readers shocked by the school’s ignorance.
Unfortunately this is not an isolated case.
Recently, Francis Williams, a 13-year-old boy in Titusville, Florida, was also suspended and labeled a drug dealer by his middle school for giving a glucose tablet to a fellow student.
Francis was recently diagnosed at the beginning of August with a rare form of diabetes, type 1 1/2. According to his CDE Jeanine Johstono, he can become ketotic but is also insulin resistant. As a result, his doctor has put him on a combination of insulin and Rezulin.
His family was devastated by the news.
“I thought we had a perfectly healthy son, now he has this life threatening disease,” says his mother, Esther Williams. “We are heartbroken.”
The first week of school, Williams went to Andrew Jackson Middle School to fill out the proper forms listing her son’s insulin, Rezulin and the blood glucose monitor that he would need to keep track of his BGs every day during school.
She didn’t think to list the glucose tablets.
“They’re just sugar – like a pack of SweeTarts. I didn’t think anything of it,” says Williams.
Two days later she received a phone call from the assistant vice principal. “She said ‘Something very serious has happened to your son’,” remembers Williams. “I braced myself for the worst.”
The assistant principal, Ms. McKnight, went on to explain that Francis had been caught dealing drugs at school. She informed Mrs. Williams that the school was suspending Francis, and two other boys who had taken the glucose tablets, for ten days. In addition, the school’s principal, Mr. Estes, was recommending that Francis be expelled permanently.
Williams couldn’t believe her own ears.
McKnight described the drugs, but what she was describing were her son’s glucose tablets, the same ones that she had just bought at the supermarket. “I told her that it was wrong that he had given them to people, but after all it was only sugar,” says Williams with frustration.
Still, the school stuck to their guns.
“He violated the Florida school system’s Medications Act,” explains Principal Estes. “Students are not allowed to carry medication without prior consent of school officials.”
But is glucose really a medication?
“Glucose is not a medication or a drug. It is simply a carbohydrate, a nutritional supplement that can be bought in supermarkets and pharmacies,” explains Robert Oringer, president of Can-Am Corporation, the distributors of the Dex4 glucose tablets.
Williams drove to the school to pick up her son. Once there, she told the school officials that they were overreacting. “After all, my son had just been diagnosed with a life threatening disease – I couldn’t believe it!” says an incredulous Williams. “They were labeling my son as a drug pusher.”
The Williams family started contacting everyone they could think of to help clear up the misunderstanding. Esther Williams worried that gossip about her son would soon spread like wildfire in the small town of Titusville.
Francis’ endocrinologist and CDE rallied behind the family. The Orlando Diabetes Center wrote letters to the school superintendent. Then an Orlando T.V. station, Channel 9, took up the story, and the Williams family was interviewed on the 6 o’clock news.
The school relented, and three days later Francis was back in school. However, the principal wanted the glucose tablets kept in the office.
“Glucose tablets need to be at hand in case of an unexpected low blood sugar,” says Robert Oringer of Can-Am. “He still didn’t get it. The lesson in this, is that we have to educate our educators.”
Mike Mawby, national vice president for ADA advocacy contacted Mr. and Mrs. Williams after hearing about the school’s suspension of their son. “The whole thing is an outrage,” says Mawby.
The ADA has offered to help the Williams family clear their son’s name. Additionally, Mawby says the ADA is working with an advocacy group in Berkeley, California, The Disabled Rights for Education and Defense Fund, to educate and change public policy in the public school system regarding children with diabetes.
Principal Estes insists that the school has had other students with diabetes in the past. Still, none of the faculty seemed to know what glucose tablets were.
The Williams family is now trying to get the disciplinary slip which would brand him as a drug dealer throughout his school career removed from Francis’ records. Esther Williams is confident that her son will be cleared. “However, we want to see it in writing,” she says.
The students at Andrew Jackson Middle School have been largely supportive after the incident. Francis has even become a sort of celebrity since he was interviewed on Channel 9 News. “Some kids saw me on T.V. They felt guilty about what happened,” says Francis.
Unfortunately, Eric Carr’s family, who experienced the same sort of ignorance as the Williams, have still not been able to clear the disciplinary slip from their son’s school records. When contacted, Jim Armistead, the boy’s stepfather, said he had asked the ACLU for help. However, the ACLU responded that the time limit had run out, and they could not pursue his stepson’s case after 90 days.
Oringer is not surprised by these two cases. In fact, he expects there will be more.
“I’m afraid that this probably won’t be the last time this happens,” says Oringer, “this is largely because more and more people with diabetes are using glucose tablets. In Europe, they are sold alongside candy as a quick energy source, but most are unfamiliar with them in the United States.”
Still, he hopes that the ADA and other diabetes organizations can spread the word and stop diabetes ignorance.
Meanwhile, Francis just wants his life to be normal again.
“Most nights I feel bad about what happened.” he says, “The whole school thought I was a drug dealer. They could at least say they are sorry.”