By Christopher Smith
Roseanne and Ken Page, parents of Eastbrook sixth-grader Ethan, say Whitfield County Schools administrators “blew things out of proportion” when Ethan and nine other Eastbrook students were suspended from school for “smoking” Smarties Wednesday afternoon.
The students were each given three days suspension, two days in-class suspension (where they are kept to a single classroom and monitored by teachers) and put on a warning list that says they could receive harsher punishment for repeat offenses, Roseanne Page said.
What got the students in trouble is a fad that has kids across the country crushing Smarties candy into powder, inhaling it and then exhaling to mimic smoking a cigarette. The trend became popular through numerous instructional videos on YouTube.
Oren Friedman, a Mayo Clinic nose specialist, told Fox News in a 2009 report that inhaling Smarties can cause infections or, in rare cases, become a breeding ground for maggots.
Roseanne Page said school officials should have educated the group of mostly sixth- and seventh-graders instead of “punishing them so severely.”
Wanda Storey, principal of Eastbrook, declined to explain her reason for the suspensions, directing questions to Eric Beavers, communications specialist for the county school system. Beavers said the students’ punishment aligns with the school’s discipline code because mimicking smoking implies drug use on school grounds.
“I don’t think the kids even understood what they were doing,” Page said. “They (administrators) should have asked them to explain what they were doing before giving out a harsh punishment.”
The discipline code states that the severity of the discipline is up to the principal’s discretion and can include less severe consequences such as counseling or one-day detention.
Asked if she believes the punishment is fair, Storey said she couldn’t discuss it because “we have always been told to send (the media) to the person in charge of communications (Beavers)” as part of “system policy.”
Superintendent Judy Gilreath said she also couldn’t go into detail about the punishment because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that protects the privacy of student records. Gilreath said any punishment is “ultimately the principal’s decision (and) we don’t override that.”
“The students admitted to doing it,” Gilreath said. “The mother (Page) just thought the punishment was too severe. Parents can do what they want. We don’t want bad publicity, but ultimately these things are up to the principal.”
Page said she believes more students at Eastbrook, and throughout the system, will keep crushing Smarties to “smoke them” until administrators talk to students about the possible harmful side effects.
“They should educate the students,” Page said. “Kids doing this could aspirate. No one has done it yet, but there is potential for choking, and it could do damage if it got into their lungs. Students need to be educated on what implying drug use is, too. I just really don’t think the kids understood what they were doing.”