Asthma Suspensions: When Rules Overshadow Human Compassion

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I am a rule-following gal. Ask anyone that has known me for more than, say, five minutes and they will probably agree with this statement. My hubby will tell you that I am the only person he knows that reads through the Terms of Service before using a new app. Rules are important to me.

There are times, though, that I believe rules are only in place to reduce liability. And while I don’t advocate running around with an anarchist mindset, there two separate incidents this month where I believe two teens – both acting with the gut instinct of helping a peer in distress and receiving school suspensions as a result – ought to be considered heroes rather than villains.

The first teen, Indiyah Rush, loaned her inhaler to a friend in the throes of an asthma attack. Her offense? Sharing a controlled substance on school grounds.

Yes, I get that there are inherent issues that come with sharing medication, but as a result of this compassionate act, both girls were suspended from school for 30 days. Their parents fought the suspension and they were allowed to return to school after “just” a week.

The second teen, Anthony Ruelas, was in class not too long ago watching his classmate choke, cough, and gag for three minutes while the teacher told the class to do nothing while she “waited for an email from the nurse.” When the asthmatic girl fell out of her chair as a result of being unable to breathe, the teen couldn’t stand it anymore. He scooped up the girl and carried her to the school nurse for treatment.

He was suspended for leaving class without permission. To add insult to injury, the first day of his suspension, his school called and asked his mom why he hadn’t shown up to school that day.

In the meantime, we’ve seen at least two news reports of children who have died as a result of an asthma attack this month. In fact, everything I’ve shared in this post — including both asthma suspensions — has happened just this month.

Clearly, we need more asthma education in this country. Children are being penalized for assisting peers in distress. Perhaps someone needs to share with these school officials that in 2013 alone, there were 3,630 deaths from asthma attacks. This equates to about 10 people per day dying because of asthma.

Thank God Anthony and Indiyah acted on their basic human instinct to help their classmates. These actions may have kept them from becoming statistics.


Even as someone who typically walks the straight and narrow, upholding rules and hissing “shhhh” when instructions are being given. Even given all of that, I would applaud my son if he carried a classmate to the nurse because he couldn’t wait for an email that may come through 20 minutes later or never in order to make sure his classmate got the help she needed.

You left class without permission to do so in order to save a life? Good on you, buddy. Let’s go out to ice cream; here’s a bonus to your allowance; want another Lego set? You’re suspended? Great, let’s go to the movies, we’ll have the theater to ourselves.

When our children/tweens/teens are punished for doing the right thing, what are we teaching them? I fear this:

Keep your head down, kid.

Every man for himself.

It’s a dog eat dog world out there.

So far these mentalities have worked really well for us, don’t you think?

It’s time to rethink punishing kids for helping out their peers in distress. This is a life and death matter. Liability be damned if those kids don’t get the help they need.

Rather than punishing these students, I believe Indiyah and Anthony ought to be applauded for their quick, compassionate, gut response to help a friend in need. When the time is right, as soon as I have processed these stories, I will be talking with my son about all of them – the suspensions and the deaths.

In the midst of the discussion, I will be clear to point out the heroic acts of Indiyah and Anthony. Not because I want him to go out of his way to break rules, but because I don’t want him to be afraid to if it means assisting someone in need, especially if a life hangs in the balance.

Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

2 Comments to Asthma Suspensions: When Rules Overshadow Human Compassion

  1. Melanie

    Your son will not be alone in what you will teach him! My three boys will also be taught to proudly get suspended or in trouble when (un?!)common sense trumps bureaucratic nonsense. Shaking my head along with you.

  2. Emily

    Indeed, this litigious society is turning us all into a bunch of self-centered wimps. Thank you for writing this “out loud.” I would be ridiculously proud of my kids if they ever attempted to save a life, regardless of surrounding circumstances or rules.

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