Medicine Cabinet Homework Assignment Sparks Controversy in Utah

A homework assignment at Mapleton Junior High School in Utah has sparked controversy and a social media firestorm regarding privacy and HIPAA violations, Fox 13 reported Oct. 23.

The responsible teacher and Nebo School District representatives insist that the assignment was innocent in intent, but some parents and commentators aren’t so sure.

What’s in Your Medicine Cabinet?

The assignment required students to take an inventory of their parents’ medicine cabinets, note the items on a form and return them to the teacher.

“This was an innocent mistake,” said Lana Hiskey, speaking for the school district. “It was part of a health unit. [The teacher] wanted parents to know how to clean their medicine cabinets.”

The form included spots for the name of each medication, its purpose and whether it was still being used. The top of the assignment sheet included an explanation that failing to properly dispose of medications is a leading cause of substance abuse in the county.

Outrage erupted when it was suggested that the assignment was part of Common Core standards and would be recorded as part of national data-mining.

But the school district says this was an individual assignment given by a misguided teacher.

“Sometimes we’re blindsided, we don’t know if a teacher is giving something out that they shouldn’t be doing,” Hiskey said, telling parents that they should always alert the school if an assignment seems inappropriate.

Passionate Responses

The issue was first brought to the school’s attention by a parent, Onika Nugent. “Although it may be a good idea for parents to do an inventory of their medicine cabinet, I believe it is inappropriate for students to counsel their parents, or report to the school what that inventory is. It is a complete invasion of privacy,” she said.

The issue also came across the desk of Deidre Henderson, a Utah state senator. Even as she acknowledged that there is a drug abuse problem that must be addressed in the county, she condemned this particular way of attempting to reduce it.

“They’re attaching drug abuse with, ‘Hey, tell us all the prescription drugs you may be on,'” she said. “There is a shame and a stigma that is attached to that for kids who may be taking prescription medications.”

Some responses were even more pointed, such as an Oct. 27 blog for American Thinker from Thomas Lifson that called the students “little spies” and the teacher “Big Sister.” “That is a not a request to clean the medicine cabinet,” he wrote, “it is a database on the most private aspects of parents’ lives.”

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