Terra Sigillata

So here’s a bizarre convergence of the controversies surrounding cognitive performance-enhancing strategies and the end-of-grade (EOG) testing stress on teachers and students.

Esther Robards-Forbes reports in yesterday’s Charlotte (NC) Observer that a third-grade teacher was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of minors by giving three students adult-strength multivitamin pills in advance of their EOG tests:

A third-grade teacher at Marvin Elementary in western Union County was arrested and suspended from his job after he was accused Friday of handing out vitamin pills to three students before end-of-grade testing earlier in the week.

Stephen Doorly, 48, a teacher at the school for two years, was suspended for violating Union County Public Schools policy regarding dispensing medications to students.

He was arrested Friday morning by the Union County Sheriff’s Office on three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, a misdemeanor. He turned himself in and was released on $1,000 bond.

Okay, Mr Doorly certainly made an error of judgment at a time when teachers can’t even give aspirin to a student, and I can tell you that any dose of vitamin will not provide an acute boost to cognitive performance. But, dear god, what have we come to in the zero-tolerance age that a teacher with an otherwise excellent record gets arrested for “contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile” for giving vitamin pills to three students?

According to the report, a fellow teacher turned Doorly in to administration and a school nurse checked with a poison control center to be sure the vitamin product was without adverse risk to the students.

Nevertheless, Doorly was suspended and turned over to the county sheriff’s office.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Had this teacher done the same with the PharmKid, I’d certainly have a little chat with him, probably first explaining that acute use of a vitamin would have no utility in improving test performance and to leave any of this supplement business to the discretion of parents (who, in my experience, give their kids far more questionable and potentially unsafe supplements).

According to the school’s website, Doorly has a BA from Drexel University and a MS in Education from Rider University in South Jersey. He has taught middle and high school science and notes in his bio that every one of his students passed their EOGs during the last two years. So, my guess is that Mr Doorly knows a little something about the placebo effect – just an assumption here but a well-educated science teacher would probably know better.

Doorly sent an e-mail to parents before EOG testing began on Tuesday, reminding them to make sure students got plenty of rest, ate nutritious meals and took their vitamins, said Luan Ingram, a school system spokesperson.

But here is where the FDA’s unusual regulation of vitamins may turn out to help Mr. Doorly defend himself.

Vitamins are not considered drugs by the US FDA – that’s right: they are not “medications.” Instead, they are food products or ingredients regulated only as dietary supplements and not subject the stringent regulatory requirements accorded to prescription drugs, or even over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen.

According to FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Nutrition (CFSAN) in their discussion of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA):

A dietary supplement is a product taken by mouth that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to supplement the diet. The “dietary ingredients” in these products may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and metabolites. . .

. . .Whatever their form may be, DSHEA places dietary supplements in a special category under the general umbrella of “foods,” not drugs, and requires that every supplement be labeled a dietary supplement [emphasis mine].

Even in this story by Tony Burbeck at WCNC-TV, Charlotte’s NBC affiliate, William Owens, a parent whose third-grader was given the multivitamin by Mr Doorly, expresses the sentiments that any reasonable person would conclude:

We think Mr. Doorly had the best intentions for our child or the children in class because he was very much a type of teacher who wanted to prepare kids for tests.

We don’t think he had any malicious intent in what he did, but he just used poor judgment – the rest, I think, was a little bit harsh.

Mr Doorly is due in court next month. I hope that his attorney does a little digging, shows this video with Mr Owens, and submits the expert opinion of a pharmacologist possessing a detailed understanding of FDA law regarding dietary supplements.

Addendum (25 May 2008): In an attempt to contact Mr Doorly with a link to this post, I learned that Marvin Elementary has taken down the 3rd grade class webpage he had posted with his teaching assistant – a lovely lesson from administrators about freedom of expression: Doorly is currently suspended but with pay.

Comments

  1. #1 Kurt
    May 25, 2008

    The week that our local schools administered the annual standardized tests, my daughter’s teacher had the students bring in bags of apples, and everyone got an apple to eat each morning before testing began. Probably more effective than vitamins, but conceptually not all that different.

    There’s just something about “pills” that seems to freak some people out. But I think the real issue here is that if the teacher is handing out individual pills to students, the students have no way of knowing what they’re ingesting. This particular teacher might be a good person, but there is no way I’d want students placed in the position of having to accept an unknown substance based on trust in the authority of the teacher.

  2. #2 tincture
    May 25, 2008

    This particular teacher might be a good person, but there is no way I’d want students placed in the position of having to accept an unknown substance based on trust in the authority of the teacher.

    Nothing in the article suggests to me that they were forced to accept the vitamins.

  3. #3 drdrA
    May 25, 2008

    Is the real story here the lengths to which teachers will go to ensure that standardized tests are passed? And I am not saying this to denigrate ANY teacher- we have forced this position that if your students don’t do well (and this occurs many times due to socioeconomic and family circumstances over which a teacher has no control) you will be punished.

    It’s just sad that teachers now feel that they have to provide everything for these kids right down to a good breakfast and vitamins (for crying out loud)…

    This is just wrong.

  4. #4 Epicanis
    May 25, 2008

    Oh, but you missed the important point. Vitamin pills are a Gateway Placebo! Now that the kids have been exposed to them, they’ll surely move up to harder placebos. First they’ll try sugar pills, and the next thing you know they’re drinking Homeopathic Magnet Water® and getting Feng Shui hair cuts!

    (Insert standard “Think Of The Children™” plea here.)

  5. #5 TomH
    May 25, 2008

    tincture-

    Fer cryin’ out loud, 3rd graders are what, eight years old? An authority figure, their very own 48 year old teacher gives them a vitamin and they’re supposed to stop and question his motives and actions right before a big test? After a constant litany of “Respect your teacher.”, “Learn from him.”, “Obey.”, “Don’t disrupt class.”, “When you’re in school, you mind the teacher.”, not to mention “Eat your vitamins!”.

    I agree that he shouldn’t have passed out the pills and that the whole idea of ‘pills’ does conjure up all sorts of evil images. But the zero tolerance policies are just an excuse not to have to think about and evaluate others actions and give a ‘knee-jerk’ shield for administrators to hide behind.

    A stern conference with the principal and a letter of reprimand in his personnel file would be plenty.

    TomH

  6. #6 Leni
    May 25, 2008

    ROFL, Epicanis. That was hilarious.

  7. #7 tincture
    May 25, 2008

    tincture-

    Fer cryin’ out loud, 3rd graders are what, eight years old? An authority figure, their very own 48 year old teacher gives them a vitamin and they’re supposed to stop and question his motives and actions right before a big test?

    You might, *might*, have a point if the teacher insisted they take it. But again, nothing in the article suggests that.

    Besides, the guy is just a teacher. The kids should/would know the difference between a teacher and a parent. They may only be 8 but they’re not ****ing idiots.

    At least I’d hope not. If they’re that eager to do anything anybody in the slightest position of authority suggests, I’d be more worried about them being molested and keeping quiet about it than being given vitamins.

  8. #8 DrugMonkey
    May 25, 2008

    they are food products or ingredients regulated only as dietary supplements

    so does this mean that legally this is identical to giving kids a banana? or a glass of OJ?

  9. #9 Tilsim
    May 25, 2008

    Are teachers legally allowed to ‘administer’ orange juice?

  10. #10 Mac
    May 25, 2008

    My AP Calc teacher used to hand out mints before big tests. Supposedly, there was a study that showed a correlation between doing well on math tests and mint candies. We never argued. Still haven’t found that study, though.

  11. #11 Abel Pharmboy
    May 25, 2008

    The points from all of you who noticed the food supplement/ingredient issue are very well-taken. There are far worse issues to generate concern regarding the safety and behavior of your 3rd-graders.

    In my elementary school days, we were told to put on “our thinking caps,” but that progressed in Catholic high school to having Sister Charles Bronson threaten us with physical harm if we did not perform to prescribed testing standards.

    In all seriousness, parents, school administrators, and law enforcement officials all need to take a pill (pun intended), settle down, and allow this gentleman to return to teaching with nothing more than a strong reprimand.

    Oh, and Epicanis gets my vote for most creative comment thus far.

  12. #12 juniorprof
    May 25, 2008

    but that progressed in Catholic high school to having Sister Charles Bronson threaten us with physical harm if we did not perform to prescribed testing standards

    This reminds me of so many stories my mother tells me of her days getting chased and wrapped with rulers by her list of favorite nuns. So can nuns still get away with this? What if they hand out analgesics?

  13. #13 Epicanis
    May 25, 2008

    Aw, shucks, I try. (Sometimes I even don’t fail).

    Thanks, incidentally, for the brewery suggestions over on my blog. I’ll have to see if I can swing by one one of the next few drives past the area.

  14. I learned that Marvin Elementary has taken down the 3rd grade class webpage he had posted with his teaching assistant

    Looks like they just took down the link to it from their third grade staff page, since this is still accessible:

    http://esteachers.ucps.k12.nc.us/D/doorly_stephen/default.htm

    I do have to wonder if Mr. Doorly would have been arrested for passing out Flintstones Chewables – the real gateway placebos.

  15. #15 babydoc
    May 28, 2008

    Charlotte-Meck school where Mr. Dooley teaches is on high alert all the time looking for problems before they start. I guess they think it is being proactive – instead of managing the daily problems in the schools like bullying, fights, etc. I agree with previous comments – give the guy a warning and let him do his job. We have so few male teachers (role models) in the schools system to begin with – give this one a break.

  16. #16 acnerdz
    May 31, 2008

    its not as bad as you think. giving adult strength vitamins to kids isnt going to do much harm at all.

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