Jennifer Ginsberg: Six years ago, Jessica Gianfrocco was convicted of heroin possession. She served her time and has been on the straight and narrow ever since. Because she failed a routine background check, however, she has now been banned from volunteering at her daughter's elementary school. She has enlisted the support of the ACLU and is suing the Cranston, Rhode Island, school department for discrimination.
How appalling that a woman who has cleaned up her act and is attempting to be of service to her daughter's school is being singled out via such Draconian measures. If she were a registered sex offender -- or still actively using drugs -- then of course one would expect her to be banned from volunteering
. But since she's someone who committed a nonviolent criminal offense (an offense that resulted from her drug addiction
), this over-response is inexcusable and hateful.
Perhaps the Cranston
school district should start randomly drug- and alcohol-testing all
of its parent volunteers -- and staff, for that matter. I say that because I am certain that Gianfrocco is not the only one with addiction issues; she is simply the only one who got caught. It takes a tremendous amount of courage for drug addicts and alcoholics to get clean and sober, and maintaining long-term sobriety is a great accomplishment. Ms. Gianfrocco should be honored for not only beating her criminal past and drug addiction
, but for making an effort to be an active part of her daughter's education.
This is a sad case of a school administration obeying the letter
of the law, but not the spirit. It's a tactic commonly employed by oppressive governments -- not something one would expect from a neighborhood elementary school. The Cranston
school district's unfair edict also reinforces the societal misconception that drug addiction
is a matter of morality, rather than an illness (as is widely acknowledged by the medical community).
What if the school had banned a person with diabetes
, or one who was medically obese, from volunteering
? That would have created an uproar, and probably would've resulted in national headlines (as it should have). Like drug addiction
, both diabetes
and obesity are classified as illnesses, and it takes a tremendous amount of discipline and personal strength to treat them. But because addiction and alcoholism
are widely misunderstood (and many see those who suffer from them as weak rather than sick), Gianfrocco's case has been mostly ignored by the media.
The recovering alcoholics and drug addicts I work with are some of the most insightful, self-reflective and loving parents I know. They work hard to be positive role models for their children and they're determined to break the cycle of addiction in their families. Their children are also some of the happiest I've ever seen.
Addicts and alcoholics who haven't found sobriety yet shouldn't be stereotyped as "bad parents" who are unworthy to volunteer in their kids' schools, either. Sick and needing help? Yes. Bad? No. Besides, no amount of finger-pointing, shaming and ostracizing has ever catapulted an addict towards sobriety. Rather, it only drives them further into their addiction by reinforcing the idea that they are worthless, defective and not good enough.
Kudos to Ms. Gianfrocco for not letting this ridiculous ban dampen her spirit. I admire her strength and courage in going public with this issue, and for taking positive action by enlisting the support of the ACLU. And I hope that together, they will sue the pants off of the Cranston
school district -- and win!