Ignorance about Kombucha is nothing new, even in the 21st century. We have been alienated from traditional, fermented foods by design because they are expensive to produce commercially and difficult to store in warehouses for weeks, therefore less profitable for the conglomerates that control the mainstream food supply. Non-inebriating fermented drinks have an even more troublesome path to acceptance. Kombucha is the modern pioneer in this endeavor, often paying the PR price for our society’s unfamiliarity with human nutritional history. The 2010 Kombucha Recall / Withdrawal is one example, and now we have another.
As first reported by Sarah at The Healthy Home Economist, a 7th grade student in the Newport Mesa School District in Southern California was suspended because his mother packed Kombucha in his lunchbox.
The incident began on Tuesday October 9th, 2012, when an unidentified school official confiscated the boy’s Kombucha because it was in a glass bottle. The next day, he was removed from classes without parental notification, held in the Vice Principal’s office and apparently interrogated, threatened and bullied by school officials and at least one uniformed police representative, according to his mother’s blog post here.
As she found out after her son returned home, the Vice Principal told the child that he was being suspended for bringing alcohol to school, pulled his “problematic” school history report and discussed transferring him out of the school. When turned over to the uniformed police representative, the child was told the drink was illegal (it was not), subjected to specific questioning regarding what medications he is taking and subsequently threatened with enrollment in Alcoholics Anonymous for Kids. He was then forced to sign a 5-day suspension notice, a terse call was made to the mother by the Vice Principal informing her of the discipline being enforced and he was sent home immediately.
It’s important to note at this point that the mother specifically identifies the bottle as a Bucha Live Kombucha Guava-Mango flavor in this comment below her article. Bucha is an “all ages” Kombucha that is specially formulated to remain under .5% alcohol. As seen in the picture below, the label clearly states that the beverage has less than .5% alcohol, which is plainly not an “alcoholic beverage” according to Federal Law (see page 15 here) and is therefore perfectly legal for any age individual to possess and consume. The school officials’ inability to correctly read a label and subsequent misinterpretation of the laws is sadly ironic considering how random the alcohol percentage limits are in the first place. There was nothing illegal about the beverage and no reason to come to that conclusion.
After repeated attempts to schedule a meeting with the Principal were rebuffed, the mother was finally granted the opportunity to meet with the Vice Principal, but the meeting did not go well, leaving the mother “feeling ridiculous, confused, outraged, ridiculed and blamed,” and the Vice Principal downplayed the incident.
That’s when she turned to Sarah Pope, who placed a call to the Principal. At that point, it appears the school began to take the situation seriously, had discovered their mistake and started backpedaling in earnest.
Both Sarah and the mother, who was finally granted a meeting with the Principal on Friday, October 12 (3 full days after the incident began), reported that the Principal portrayed the incident as no big deal after the fact, denying that any discipline had been instituted.
By that afternoon, the school district had issued a press release stating that, “No disciplinary action was taken and the student was not suspended,” yet the mother notes that her son was forced to sign a 5-day suspension notice. It’s also curious that they claim no disciplinary action was taken when the child was pulled from classes, interrogated, vilified and then sent home.
They further state that “a substance on campus containing any level of alcohol content is a violation,” yet there have been no reported instances of confiscated fruit juice, soy sauce, yogurt or coca cola at the school, all of which contain trace alcohol similar to this Kombucha brand and well below the legally allowed limits. The release offers no apology, admits no wrongdoing and promises no further investigation of the events or the officials involved to determine the appropriateness of their actions, a troubling trifecta of denial.
There is one other note that is particularly bothersome in the way this situation played out. The Kombucha bottle was confiscated at lunch time on Tuesday. The child was not brought to the Vice Principal’s office until Wednesday. Excuses for not notifying the parents before taking disciplinary action become more difficult to imagine based on that timeline. The school officials appeared to have ample time to contact the mother and set up an appropriate forum for discussing the issue. They also appeared to have ample time to investigate Kombucha Tea and re-examine the bottle to confirm their initial and incorrect assumptions.
These steps could have prevented a traumatic experience for a young child in their care. These officials chose to shoot first and ask questions later, and for this they deserve investigation. If their actions are not in violation of the policies of the school district, the school district needs to re-examine their policies and make the appropriate changes to reflect parent’s and children’s rights.
The family’s remedies for this unfortunate incident may still include legal avenues, though they have made no statements regarding a lawsuit at this time. The mother does mention in this comment that her son has taken interest in starting a Real Food Club at his school as a means of making the best of a bad situation, which could offer badly needed education in this arena to serve not only the students, but the faculty and administration as well, so that incidents such as this one don’t occur in the future.