Mini Outrage of the Week: Kid Suspended for Bringing Peppermint Oil to School

Hi Readers! What in tarnation? A 10-year-old girl brings peppermint oil to school, gives a few drops to her friends to flavor their water, and the next thing you know, she receives a whole, big in-school suspension, according to this article in The Boston Post (by way of Newsday).

Now, danger-wise, peppermint oil is right up there with ice cream sodas. It sounds like something the Music Man might peddle on the side, and it is ridiculous that the school went bonkers about it.

On the other hand, the principal did have a shred of reason going for him when he explained why the school is so gol-darn persnickety:  IF someone has allergies to this or that, it would be bad for kids to be sharing their foodstuffs heedlessly. And so all students are instructed, from kindergarten on, not to mix ‘n’ match their “substances,” as he (and the guidelines) put it.

So much for trading my tangerine for your Devil Dog. Verboten. So much for the school saying, “Kids. I know this was peppermint, but it’s still against the rules. Don’t do it again.”  Which would have made sense.

Nope. Naturally the mom is threatening a law suit. Naturally the school is insisting there is nothing at all preposterous about suspending a 10-year-old for a substance as old and harmless as camomile tea.

And naturally we are once again left to ponder how everything having to do with kids always becomes such a big deal these days. — Lenore

51 Responses

  1. If there was an actual “shred of reason” to his inane explanation, he would have to suspend children for sharing any peanut related product too. I’m sure there are far more children with serious nut allergies than there are children with peppermint oil allergies. Complete utter nonsense.

  2. I agree that the rule makes sense (sort of–at some point, kids should have learned the principle already, and should know to ask about allergies, whether they are giving or receiving the food). But the response makes no sense at all. Suspension was really necessary? A teacher couldn’t have said, “Fortunately nothing when wrong this time, but there’s a reason why we have this rule–and I know you’d feel terrible if someone got sick when all you wanted to do was be friendly.”

    The lawsuit is also excessive, although I have a sneaking suspicion that nothing else gets a response these days.

  3. “The label says ’Caution, keep out of the reach of children. ”

    I’ve never seen a label like that on sassafrass or ice cream sodas, though.

    While I think the punishment extreme, most schools these days do have a clear cut “No sharing food” rule that is hounded into their little heads from Kindergarten on, mainly becuase of the increase in severe peanut allergies. If this rule was made clear, and clearly violated, some discipline is called for. A one-day in house suspension? That may be a bit much.

  4. The label has the caution statement as a CYA for the producing company. Peppermint oil can irritate mucus membranes if used full strength.

    I am flabbergasted at the action of the principle. Collect the ‘offensive/allergy-producing’ material and call the parent of the child involved. Sheesh…. Zero tolerance policy is like most things, good in theory but leaves much to be desired in actuality.

  5. From the newspaper article:
    “Peppermint oil is an unregulated over-the-counter drug,” the release reads. That bothers me more than the suspension. It is NOT a drug any more than almond extract is a drug. Or those single mix packets of Kool Aid. She violated the school’s no food sharing policy that is drilled into the kid’s heads since preschool. True. Fine, suspend her for violating a food policy….but are they suspending the kid who shares a granola bar as well? Doubtful. It’s outrageous that it’s implied that she distributed drugs. That would be unacceptable to me as a parent as well. My kids share their hand cream with other winter chapped buddies….they must be drug dealers too.

  6. Ah, nothing like an overreaction to a minor issue by a school. That’s zero tolerance for you. Don’t use your brain, just suspend the kids. They probably deserve it anyhow!

    I get the original logic behind zero tolerance, as it’s supposed to make sure that kids get punished equally or some such, but it’s a failure. A complete, utter, miserable failure.

    And peppermint oil? Please. A little common sense about what you consider to be an “over the counter substance” might help too.

  7. But peppermint oil might be a gateway drug, and as George Carlin pointed out years ago “Mother’s milk leads to everything.”

  8. @jim,

    Peppermint *is* a gateway drug. It can lead to spearmint or sparkling wintergreens in your mouth.

    Jeff, with tongue planted firmly in cheek

  9. Sheesh. When I was in elementary school I brought a little pill bottle containing liquid mercury (from a broken thermometer) to school. I couldn’t believe they took this cool stuff away from me (as I passed it around to my friends to show how it rolled around the palms of our hands) and called my mom. But suspension wasn’t necessary, nor does it show up in my school records. Believe me, I have never forgotten that it isn’t a good idea to play with mercury (or been tempted to play with it again).

  10. My daughter has severe peanut allergy. If she eats a peanut/peanut butter she will swell up and stop breathing. She is 4 and knows darn well that she shouldn’t eat things if she doesn’t know for sure that they are “safe”. She knows that she doesn’t want to eat something “unsafe” because she would have to get a shot and go to the hospital. I trust her absolutely in this area. If a 4 year old can be taught to be cautious about the food that she eats I’m sure that other kids can be taught too. I don’t think that entire school populations need to be burdened with a handful of kids’ allergies. This is just another area where everyone is trying to keep kids safe all the time. Having a severe allergy is just something that we’ve taught our kid that she just has to deal with. And is anyone allergic to peppermint oil anyway?

  11. “Naturally the mother is threatening a lawsuit.”? Now who isn’t using common sense. Good for the girl for flavoring her water with peppermint oil rather than high fructose corn syrup and synthetic chemicals. It sounds foolish for the school to suspend her, but to threaten a lawsuit because she received an in-school suspension? That’s just stupid. Schools are strapped financially as-is. They don’t need to be wasting their money on frivolous lawsuits.

  12. If parents bothered to teach their kids how to handle allergies, they’d know what foodstuffs not to eat or drink.

    And if it concerns an allergy that hasn’t manifested itself yet, the response was just plain stupid. Kids could get an allergic reaction from their packed lunch or *horror* their school lunch.

    Instead of playing the blame game and suspending innocent kids the school officials should learn what to do if someone develops an allergic reaction: send to school nurse, call parent, or in extreme cases call 911.

  13. Lenore, the sale of sassafras roots and bark for internal consumption has been banned by the FDA since the 1960s. (sassafras leaves are considered safe though!) Root beer hasn’t been the same since! (I realize that’s a total derail.)

    So, is peppermint tea banned at this school too? someone check the teacher’s lounge!

  14. Michelle – Yea for you. My parents raised me the same way and I’m still here. Starting at four or five they also taught me to recite my medical history. That way if I came in contact with peanuts while with a friend’s family I could give the ER docs the right information.

    BTW at my school the no sharing rule is not just about allergies, but about federal funds. Kids on free or reduced lunches were trading parts of their lunches for snacks. That could cause us to lose our funding and a good portion of 700 kids would go hungry. (We also had a problem with parents visiting with younger sibs during lunch and taking away the school aged child’s lunch and feeding it to the younger kids. Our Social Worker works with those “parents” to make sure the kids are fed.

  15. So, have they outlawed salt (it could cause blindness if rubbed in the eyes) or anything sweet (there must be some diabetics out there with zero common sense.

    I vote to ban salt, sugar and paper (someone could cut themselves) from all schools starting today!

  16. Had a few drops of peppermint oil in the toilet bowl after I just gave birth to help urinate. It really worked.

  17. Oops wanted to add the above post, just in case anyone was wondering what it may be used for.

  18. The suspension is ludicrous. Calling peppermint oil a drug is ludicrous. If the FDA doesn’t call it a drug, how can the school system? And the parents…suing? Is that really necessary? They don’t want their family name dragged through the mud, but they’ll let the media create a circus revolved around them? End it.
    However, it is possible to take in too much of the oil and die. The individual would probably have to drink a glass full…
    We know children who cannot be in the same room as nuts or they’ll have an allergic reaction. So, I understand the trepidation when it comes to letting kids exchange foods and not allowing peanut products into some schools. A ten-year-old should know if she/he has a peppermint allergy to not drink the peppermint oil….should.

  19. I don’t think the principal’s explanation adds up, however, I do, sort of, kind of, maybe understand why peppermint oil would be banned at schools.

    Is Peppermint Oil Toxic?
    http://herbalmedicine.suite101.com/article.cfm/is_peppermint_oil_toxic

    The funny is that I know of aunts and uncles who drank peppermint oil “to excess” as kids for some unknown reason, though apparently with the hope of some type of intoxication. All they got was sick, however, uh, as the stories go. And, when I say “to excess,” I mean just once.

  20. @Michelle: Exactly. My son has celiac disease (gluten intolerant) and that means wheat, rye, barley and the ilk. He KNOWS at 8 years old not to eat anything if he can’t read the ingredients, or knows what it is. He’s 8! He’s known how to do this for about a year now at school – and when he decides to ignore it (which doesn’t happen much at all now) he gets to vomit for a couple of hours. Kids aren’t stupid. I don’t need a special policy for him.

    This school is ridiculous on so many levels it’s disgusting. Just take the stuff away from her and leave it at that… sheesh. I was in the post office today and a man I struck up a conversation with gave me a quip that fits here:

    “If common sense were that common, everyone would have it.”

    You know, as a 12-year-old, my best friend and I decided cinnamon extract smelled divine. We put some on our necks, like perfume. We got a rash to end all rashes – never did it again. We didn’t need suspensions or punishments for being idiots. This girl was at least using it in a very legitimate way – what do they do to her? Make such a big deal (both the school and her parents) that we’re reading about it on the internet.

    The real morons in the tale are the ones that are over the age of 10.

  21. I’ve had a bottle of peppermint oil in my preschool classroom all year. We shake it into the play dough to make it smell good and the kids mix it in.

    I did once have a mom and her twin boys wind up with a rash on their arms from cinnamon dough, but how else were they going to learn they were allergic to massive amounts of cinnamon?

  22. Seems to me that the child’s teacher could have just taken the bottle of oil and held onto it until the kid was ready to go home. She/he could then return it along with a note for the parents explaining school policy. If it happened again, then perhaps a stronger measure would be taken.
    That’s how it was when I went to school waay back in the 50’s.

  23. Superintendent Feltman’s action
    is one more reason to consider
    removing your child from a
    public school. His attitude is
    everywhere in public schools.

    If you aren’t familiar with the
    term “unschooling,” you might want
    to look at this website:

    unschooling.com

    You also might like books by
    John Taylor Gatto:

    “Weapons of Mass Instruction”

    or

    “The Underground History of
    American Education”

  24. My son has a couple of friends with some significant allergies. The kids with the allergies have been taught to handle their allergies in social situations. The one with the largest number of allergies to the most varied items (the poor kid is allergic to nuts, eggs, milk, citrus, and wheat) gives a very polite “no thank you,” followed by an explanation of his allergies whenever he’s offered food from someone. The kids with more limited allergies know to ask the right questions about what they’re being offered, and have learned to make judgements about when to accept and when to decline an offer.

    The friends of theirs without allergies all have an understanding of the concepts of allergies, and understand that foods can contain other component foods, and that some of their friends are allergic to some of those components.

    These are three and four year olds.

    The schools all set up nut free environments, but that’s more because there are just enough students with serious enough allergies that it’s best to just keep the nuts out of the schools entirely. I understand that, but the kids still learn to handle the rest of it.

    It’s fantastic to see these kids learning this way. For example, there’s tremendous value in kids that age learning that things that don’t look like eggs or milk can contain eggs or milk. They’re learning concepts that will be the foundation of their scientific education when they get older. (God knows we need to help scientific literacy all we can in the US.)

    If three and four year olds can handle it, the older kids certainly should be able to — if the school wants to take the time and effort to teach to real world situations that the kids already encounter, rather than whatever standardized test is coming up next.

  25. Lenore, you got a Devil Dog for your tangerine??? What sneaky trick did you pull?

  26. “This was a violation of our code of conduct. There’s no question about that,” Feltman said. “It’s uncontested that the child brought an over-the-counter substance to the school. ….

    MILK is an over the counter substance……does this mean we need to have an under the table substance for something to be allowed? Perhaps a back door substance? No, don’t want to go there, just so long as everything is above board and out in the open. Well everything except the superintendents thought processes.

  27. While it sounds silly because we’re so used to peppermint flavor, Ingestion of peppermint oil in raw, liquid form can cause death. It is particularly dangerous for children. As a former restaurant manager, I knew this already–but Dr. Google easily confirms many times over. On the other hand, the child couldn’t have known that, and a suspension rather than a stiff, serious talking to about following the “don’t share food” rules and perhaps a benching seems over the top.

  28. I hope they ban personal scent products then. Perfume and cologne can trigger migraines.

  29. Cheryl: “Ingestion of peppermint oil in raw, liquid
    form can cause death.”

    Not from what I find. altmedicine.about.com says
    “Pure peppermint oil is toxic at small doses.”, but
    it doesn’t say how small, or where the data comes
    from. When I search for the LD50 (i.e., the dose
    that causes 50% of animals to die), I find plenty
    of Material Safety Data Sheets that give an LD50
    in rats of 2.4 grams per kilogram. For a 55 pound /
    25 kg kid, that’s a lethal dose of 55 grams, or
    almost 2 ounces. To put that into perspective, that
    much hand sanitizer would be more than enough
    to put a kid in the hospital (if it all was swallowed, see
    http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/sanitizer.asp )

    So, given the above, this is what I make of this
    situation:
    1) A kid who brought cool stuff to school
    2) A principal who doesn’t know anything about risk
    3) A principal who wants to throw his weight around
    4) A kid who is now going to be scared of authority
    5) A learning opportunity for the principal that will
    be wasted. No, he’s not going to pay attention to the
    lawsuit.

  30. Now, I’ve heard everything.

    I hope.

  31. Number one, this is stupid from the get-go. Number two, even if we assume for the sake of discussion that this is a valid rule and that some punishment was merited, what happened to keeping the kid after school for an hour? Why does every violation, no matter how small, immediately get escalated to at least suspension? Talk about killing flies with an elephant gun. :/

    Angie

  32. There is one big flaw in the whole logic of preventing kids from sharing foods that might cause allergic reactions. Somebody already mentioned peanuts.

    I don’t know about you, but I have actually never heard of somebody having a peppermint allergy, although there are lots of school kids who are definitely allergic to peanuts. And for some of them, consuming even negligible amounts of peanut products of any kind can very much be life threatening. I hope it will never happen, but to stay within that flawed logic, you would have to suspend a kid for sharing his Snickers bar with a friend.

    It all just goes to show, “zero tolerance” is a stupid, senseless approach that does infinitely more harm than good. There should always be discretion and discernment. A kid bringing a bag of weed to school, for example, is a very serious issue and warrants much more than just a suspension, but putting a student on that same level for having some aspirin in his bag is more than just poor judgement.

  33. I might file a law suit. Why not? The school’s enforcement of the policy is absurd. At the very least my child would not be participating in the in-school suspension. However, I would be open to a discussion with the principal and school board members and accept their apology. So there.

  34. You know the principle probaby DID suspend the girl out of fear of a lawsuit.

    I kind of worry about what this zero tolerance policy will do for the kids who do have allergies/special diets. When I worked in foodservice, there were two kinds of people. There were the people that took responsibility for their allergies by telling their server EXACTLY what they could and could not have. When in catering, our favorite example was the “onion lady” who could not eat anything from the onion family. She would identify herself before every catered event, AFTER making sure the host KNEW about her allergy and had placed an order for a special meal. There was the guy who came to brunch and had a card that listed EVERY ONE of his allergies (and they were significant) and the chef came out and personally walked him through the buffet line and told him what he could and could not eat.

    Then there are the other people. The people who show up to a wedding and demand that we find them something to eat because they are allergic to something, are on Atkins or became a vegetarian last week. Those people are annoying, and I do not feel the LEAST bit bad when they have to eat bread all night, because at a catered event, the food is made ahead of time. If you tell us as we’re placing a meal in front of you, a) you suck and b) we don’t feel at all sorry for you and c) we probably don’t have anything to feed you anyway.

    I actually think this policy is teaching kids to not take responsibility for their own allergies, which will only lead to more lawsuits when they become adults and eat at a restaurant and fail to inform their server of their allergies. I’m sorry…. most restaurants will bend over backwards already to accommodate allergies. P.F. Chang’s has a whole special menu for celiacs. Whenever I wasn’t SURE, I asked… every time.

    In fact, my best friend worked at an elementary school as a gifted and talented coordinator. There was a bulletin board somewhere in the school that showed the allergy kids and what they were allergic to. It was funny, because she was allergic to soy and was on the list.

  35. “To put that into perspective, that much hand sanitizer would be more than enough to put a kid in the hospital’

    Yes, but kids don’t generally pour hand sanitizer in their water and then drink it, as these kids were doing with the peppermint oil.

    My kid (5) has a nut allergy too, and knows very well to ask if anything has nuts in it. She’s had some reactions sometimes though (not at school, but at parties) because she’s asked, been told no, and it actually had nuts after all. These were cleared up by quick administration of a strong dose of benadryll (epi pen available if needed). So I’m not hysterical about no sharing food rules; I think she can be trusted, and I also realize that no matter how careful you are, accidents can happen.

    I think what happened in this case is that the principal initially presented it as a zero-tolerance drug case, got it made clear to him that was ludicrous, and then tried to cover up by turning it into a “no sharing food because of allergies” case.
    At any rate, the child broke a clear rule and some discipline is warranted. A one day in-house suspension is severe, but it’s also not as if it’s going to go on her “permanent record” are retard her academic development. (In other words, unwarranted but hardly worth suing over.) I’d be concerned if someone were putting pure oil in my daughter’s drinking water and the school wasn’t telling them, hey, cut that out. Of course, the school could tell the kid that with words and perhaps a lost recess, and not a suspension.

  36. We are ceasing to have normal exchanges as humans. Most kids are not allergic and Peppermint Oil is never a death sentence. Mistakes and accidents happen deal with them and teach the children to deal with them as they come up. We can not regulate absolute safety nor do we want to. Every one is CYO and that doesn’t draw us together as a society but causes us to fear each other and pull apart.

  37. If you read the comments on the article itself the mother has put in her two cents. No, she is not suing the school- but she is outraged that the principal would use allergies as some kind of justification when she was permitted to *distribute* peppermint candy canes just days earlier. And if it is a “zero-tolerance” (don’t think, just do) policy, I’d like to see the school’s record on suspensions handed out for kids sharing food.

  38. Nancy: I eat nothing but meat, eggs and water. I would never expect a host to cater to my preferences unless that was the goal of the gathering.

    I’m only waiting for someone to call CPS on me because I feed my child the same way.

  39. i’m suprised most of the time that kids toys don’t say “Caution: Keep out of reach of children”

  40. And Damaged Justice, you are in the minority.

    Many people show up and want us to drop everything and cater to their particular diet du jour. It is almost always possible to accommodate special preferences when we know about them beforehand; it is impossible once the event starts.

    Atkins was a particularly nasty example of this… people would go through buffets and waste tons of food by picking out the meat and tossing the rest… and then we’d run out of whatever dish and the other guests would be pissed.

  41. ok, WAAAY off topic, but while we’re talking catering…

    When I was a vegetarian, I was always annoyed when “Pizza” meant a single token vegetarian pizza, and the other 11 pizza something with meat. But many of the omnivores would decide to try a piece of the vegetarian pizza as well, as a result there’d be a bunch of left over pizza with meat, and several hungry vegetarians.

    If you’re an omnivore, please at least let the vegetarians have first crack at the token vegetarian dish before you add it to your plate.

  42. Nancy: Ignore such rude people. They’re not worth a second of your time or consideration. Why would you bother?

  43. @Susan2 I am a crazed sugar addict, but I’d happily trade a devil dog for a tangerine. There’s little that beats fresh citrus.

  44. We just ran into something stupid like this at our school. I put a tiny tube of organic, non-toxic, you-could-eat-it-and-it-wouldn’t-kill-you lotion in my 5yo’s backback for her to apply to the excema on her leg because she was scratching herself bloody at school. The school took it away from her and called me at work because my daughter had “drugs” in her posession!

    I explained what it was and they informed me that lotion was not allowed in class, she would have to visit the nurse to have lotion or sunblock applied since these are “dangerous.”

    On a recent visit to her class I discovered that half of the kids have alcohol-based hand sanitizer in their bags – and they apply it to their hands right in front of the teacher before snack. Now this stuff is actually dangerous and is labeled as a drug and says “keep away from children.” Kids have become sick from ingesting hand sanitizer, including from accidental ingestion. But, we’re so afraid of germs that it is okay for Kindergartners to run around with 65% Ethyl Alcohol in their backpacks!!

    No lotion or chapstick though…those are dangerous!

    We are so paranoid that we have become incapable of making intelligent, informed decisions based on actual risk and actual danger. Like the actual risk of ingesting hand lotion vs. Ethyl Alcohol vs. germs. Stupidity abounds.

  45. Oh my goodness gracious! I remember in 4th grade (1964) the big thing was cinnamon toothpicks! We had cinnamon oil, probably the same thing as this peppermint oil, and we would dip the toothpick in the cinnamon oil and suck on them at school! Can you imagine that now? Toothpick through a cheek or stabbed into the gums. Yeah, I can’t imagine how nobody got hurt! (eyes rolling in sarcasm!)

  46. […] “Kid Suspended for Bringing Peppermint Oil to School” [Free-Range Kids] […]

  47. Lawyers thrive on the fact that people are not little automatons. Do the libs want want little robots marching around so we have a perfect and safe world, not gonna happen. Do they enjoy being a pain in the neck or do they want to shift all money from the pockets of working people to the pockets of the government and lawyers? I’d go with the last two options.

  48. Can we start another country and call it sane world?

  49. So, given the above, this is what I make of this
    situation:
    1) A kid who brought cool stuff to school
    2) A principal who doesn’t know anything about risk
    3) A principal who wants to throw his weight around
    4) A kid who is now going to be scared of authority
    5) A learning opportunity for the principal that will
    be wasted. No, he’s not going to pay attention to the
    lawsuit.

    I so agree with this. It is soooo widespread in schools these days. A little common sense goes a long way, too bad these adminstrators can’t see that. Its ALL ABOUT RULES AND REGULATIONS. Sheesh and they wonder why kids sometime develop an attitude towards principals.

  50. Stumbled upon this well after it was posted, so my response is way late. First of all, I really don’t know what the appropriate response to this kind of situation in school is. It’s really an iffy subject, and yes, people make mountains out of mole hills. But for those who don’t know, peppermint oil was used by the Romans for dyspepsia. It is known to relax the bowels and I myself use it for upset stomach. However, peppermint has also been known to cause respiratory failure in some children. I can vouch that when the capsules release the oil, I would sometimes get a rush in my chest that would often take a few minutes to pass. I suspect that this might be exactly what caused the children to have probelms. In a high enough dosage or prolonged use, it is also known to cause renal failure. Just something to take into consideration – it’s very difficult to determine right and wrong here, but even caffeine is a drug. It just comes down to needing an entire overhaul of the system to explain what drugs are or are not, etc. so that there is no gray area.

  51. Had a few drops of peppermint oil in the toilet bowl after I just gave birth to help urinate. It really worked.

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