Ten-year-old Leighann Adair came home in tears, terrified to tell her parents she’d been slapped with a week’s worth of detention for possessing a contraband substance:
The forbidden fruit: a piece of Jolly Rancher candy.
A teacher at Brazos Elementary School in Wallis, Texas, took the unopened piece of candy away from the third-grader two weeks ago after a friend handed it to her.
Both Leighann and her friend were ordered to serve detention during lunch and recess, and they had to write an essay about what they did and why it was wrong.
“She came home crying,” said her mother, Amber Brazda, explaining that Leighann “has never been in trouble before.” “It’s an extreme punishment for something so small,” said Leighann’s stepfather Michael Brazda.
“What are they going to do, have candy sniffing dogs next?” her mother said.
But school officials are standing by the punishment. They say they have to be strict in order to enforce their no-gum, no-candy policy. Candy and gum, they say, can cause a mess.
Jack Ellis , superintendent for the Brazos Independent School District, says it’s also a matter of following state guidelines to limit the amount of junk food in schools. “Whether or not I agree with the guidelines, we have to follow the rules,” Ellis told KHOU-TV in Houston.
A piece of Jolly Ranchers candy has 23 calories and provides 2 percent of the daily value of carbohydrates. But there’s nothing in the rules that compels a school to punish a student for possessing junk food, says Texas Department of Agriculture spokesman Bryan Black.
The department sent a letter to the school reminding staff that state policy doesn’t outline such punishments. “Our policy does not prohibit from sharing a Jolly Rancher with a friend,” Black told FOXNews.com.
“If a parent wants to pack candy, it’s their decision, not against school policy. A parent needs to decide what a student eats.”
Though the state has dietary rules for schools — mandating, for example, that food be baked, not fried — disciplinary action is a local decision, Black told FOXNews.com. And Leighann’s parents say the local decision routinely goes too far. “The school has a history of harsh punishments,” Michael Brazda told FoxNews.com. “It’s about time someone called them out on it.”
He said students at the school are required to wear a belt, and a few months ago Leighann’s brother was given in-house suspension for failing to wear one – even though the father said he called the school secretary to explain that their new puppy chewed up the boy’s only belt that morning.
He said his son had to “sit in a room all day and stare at a wall.”
Leighann’s family and members of the community plan to attend the next school board meeting to contest the school’s stringent candy policy.
Though the family is trying to change the district’s patterns, the parents say they plan to take their children out of the school district at the end of the year.
“I will put her in a private school if I have to,” Amber Brazda said.