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December 13, 2017

Possessing “over-the-counter and, or, prescription drugs or harmful substances” on school property


Possessing “over-the-counter and, or, prescription drugs or harmful substances” on school property
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,269

The lunch bag belonging to a student [W.H.] who is the subject of this appeal was found to have in it "over the counter medication.”  The principal advised W.H.'s parents [Petitioners ] that W.H. would be suspended for three days based upon his possession of “over the counter medication.” Petitioners told the principal that the pills were “vitamin C, Olive Leaf extract and Echinacea supplements.” 

The principal advised Petitioners that, in accordance with school policy, over the counter medications must be authorized by parents and physicians and may only be administered by the school nurse.  The principal requested that the student be immediately picked up from school. The school principal then advised Petitioners that W.H.'s possession of the supplements violated the portion of Marathon Central School District's code of conduct prohibiting “conduct that endangers the safety, morals, health, or welfare of others.”  A second letter described the supplements as “unknown substances” and noted that the student “admitted to having them in his possession.”

Petitioners subsequently met with the superintendent and the principal and explained that [1] they were aware of the district's policy concerning the administration of over-the-counter medications and [2] the pills which the student possessed were nutritional supplements, which the Food and Drug Administration considers food, not drugs. 

The superintendent declined to modify the student’s three-day suspension, and Petitioners thereafter appealed to school board. The president of the school board told Petitioners that the board had considered their appeal and upheld the three-day suspension and Petitioners appealed to the Commissioner seeking to have the student’s suspension be expunged from his record.

After considering a number of procedural issues, the Commissioner considered the merits of Petitioners' appeal and said that "in an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief."

In this instance the Commissioner found that Petitioners had "met their burden of proof to show that [the school board's] decision was arbitrary and capricious. The Commissioner explained that Petitioners asserted, and the school board has not refuted, that the student possessed vitamins and herbal supplements which the Food and Drug Administration classifies as foods, not drugs.  Further, Petitioners admitted that they were and are aware of the school district's policy which prohibits the possession of “over-the-counter and, or, prescription drugs or harmful substances,” but contended that the “food” possessed by the student did not fall into any of these categories. 

In contrast the Commissioner found that the school board had not submitted any proof to refute Petitioners’ allegations or establish that the vitamins and herbal supplements at issue were over-the-counter drugs or harmful substances within the meaning of its policy that would support a finding that the student engaged in “conduct that endanger[ed] the safety, morals, health or welfare of others.”

Accordingly, the Commissioner ruled that "on this record" Petitioners have met their burden of proving that the student’s conduct was not prohibited by any portion of school board's code of conduct and ordered that W.H.'s suspension "be expunged from his record."

In addition, the Commissioner observed that:

1. Although the school district had argued that the supplements were subject to prohibition as “look-alike” drugs, this rationale is not supported by the evidence in the record as the school board had not established on this record that its code of conduct prohibits the possession of “look-alike” drugs or that the principal, superintendent or the school board relied upon such reasoning in imposing or upholding W.H.'s disciplinary penalty. 

2. Although the school board failed to demonstrate on this record that its code of conduct prohibits possession of vitamins, herbal supplements or “look-alike” drugs, nothing in this decision should be construed as prohibiting the school district from adopting a code of conduct which clearly apprises students and parents that students may be subject to discipline for the unauthorized possession of nutritional supplements, herbal remedies or look-alike drugs.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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