Teen in Virginia Suspended for Taking the Pill

April 6, 2009 § 4 Comments

UPDATE: Amplify has a form to tell the Virginia School Board members that birth control isn’t the same as heroin or a loaded gun.

A disheartening story of under-the-radar slut-shaming and bullshit bureaucracy: the Washington Post reports that a teenage girl has been suspended for two weeks – with the possibility of expulsion – for getting caught taking her birth control pill during lunch.

For two decades, many schools have set zero-tolerance policies on drugs. That means no over-the-counter drugs, no prescription drugs, no pretend drugs in student lockers or pockets. When many teens have ready access to medicine cabinets filled with prescription medications such as Xanax and Vicodin, any capsule or tablet is suspect.

Still, some parents and civil rights advocates say enforcement has been overzealous. Stringent rules have ensnared not only drug dealers and abusers, but a host of sniffling and headachy students seeking quick medical relief. The Supreme Court will consider this month the case of a 13-year-old Arizona student who was strip-searched in 2003 by an administrator who suspected that she was carrying ibuprofen pills.

Fairfax [Virginia] School Board members have debated over time whether to allow students to carry Tylenol or other over-the-counter medicines without registering them with the school nurse.

Look, I understand that there needs to be some sort of regulation about what drugs kids can and can’t take into school buildings, and what they’re allowed to self-medicate with. Obviously heroin, LSD, and marijuana shouldn’t be tolerated at all, and potent prescription drugs should be registered with the health office so that in an emergency, the administration would have the information necessary to act responsibly.

But I think this whole charade about over-the-counter and widely used prescription drugs reveals a profound distrust of young people, and a desire by the education¬†bureaucracy to get involved in the private lives of the families it serves. I’m a high school student who is currently pursuing the pill as a birth control option (the personal is political, right?), and, feminist as I am, I imagine I’d be upset if the entire school were to hear about my sex life in such a humiliating way. I’m worried about the shame this young woman might feel – shame that’s entirely irrational, since using contraception (with condoms) is in fact the most responsible choice straight sexually active teens can make. And I’m thrilled that she’d made the decision to use the pill with her family, so the administration’s call home wasn’t a total shock – but, as Miriam points out, what about women who don’t tell their families they’re using birth control? They’d likely face jeers and rumors at school and surprise and anger at home.

According to school policies, her pills should have been kept in the school clinic. But the student said she did not see the logic in making a special trip to see the nurse, a relative stranger, each day during her 25-minute lunch break. She preferred to take the pill on her own. She tried to be discreet but she got caught.

The teenager and her mother maintain that the decision to take birth-control pills is personal. Now that private choice has been shared with her principal and many teachers.

Why are we embarassing girls for making healthy sexual decisions? Why don’t we shine the spotlight, just for a second, on the naive and sexist health curricula that pervades our country’s education system and tries to prevent such responsible choices?

As far as I can tell, the student – who declined to publish her name (hooray respecting privacy rights!) – seems to be taking this mayhem with a grain of salt.

During two weeks of watching television game shows and trying to keep up with homework online, the Fairfax teen, an honor student and lettered athlete, had time to study the handbook closely. If she had been caught high on LSD, heroin or another illegal drug, she found, she would have been suspended for five days. Taking her prescribed birth-control pill on campus drew the same punishment as bringing a gun to school would have.

I don’t really know what to say to this shit, except that taking contraception is not fucking the same as carrying a gun – that this statement seems to warrant evidence beyong basic decency is truly depressing. But I also want to point out that the Washington Post takes pains to include that the teen is an “honor student and lettered athlete.” She’s a nice good girl, so it’s okay for her to do it – the implication being, of course, that if she didn’t have stellar grades or wasn’t involved in the school community, having The Sex would be quite unforgivable. Look: you are allowed to have sex. You are allowed to want pleasure and go after it. You are allowed to keep yourself from getting pregnant in the process. This has nothing to do with your grades or work ethic or looks or personality. It’s your right, and that’s that.

Via Feministing.

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