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.