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Discriminating Against Recovered Addicts Is Just Wrong!

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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.

Jessica Gianfrocco
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!

next: Talking with a Parent Who Is Dying
53 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mia September 10, 2010, 5:24 AM

Rita - I don’t lock my children away, I just don’t tell them it’s okay or acceptable to drink/drug. I am not “naive” and know that of course they will encounter these things and we have had an open conversation about sex/drugs/drinking since they were toddlers.

And BTW smoking pot when you were younger doesn’t make you a great mom. I have more respect to the people who stood by their beliefs and didn’t partake.

This case is about a felon who wants the rules bent for her. It is about a person who made the choice to use heroin which is just insane in the first place. That type of person is NOT who I would use a role model for my children.

Anonymous September 10, 2010, 5:27 AM

“She probably has an amazing story about her road to recovery”

I prefer the stories and role models like my own - a woman who grew up dirt poor and chose NOT to use drugs and better herself and put herself through college and not commit crimes. Those are the stories I want my children to hear. Those stories about strong people who strive to do better - not those who do drugs, commit crimes and then want everyone to praise them for finally behaving themselves like they should have in the first place.

JAMIE September 11, 2010, 1:43 AM

It’s really great that some people make it through hard times and situations in life and never use drugs and drink. But for those who do make those bad decisions it is really great to hear a story about how they recovered and have been able to do great things since they have been clean and sober. I totally disagree with some of you and I think all parents and childeren would benifit from hearing more stories about how people can over come addiction and become great people who enjoy and want to spend their free time with their kids. Gives those who are still fighting addiction hope! Sure this woman made a bad decision but surly none of us can say that we never made a single bad decision. And personally I don’t want my childeren growing up to think that just because they do make a bad decision they can’t get back on track! When my two daughters who are now 3 years old and 5 months old get old enough to understand I will explain to them all about thier fathers battle with drugs and alcohol and how he got clean and sober! I will also teach my childeren to understand that just because you make a bad decision doesn’t mean youre a bad person.

clik this & youl get September 11, 2010, 8:54 PM

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Anonymous September 12, 2010, 7:18 PM

To Leah, When a person is a true addict the drugs no longer make them high, they take them to get through the day without life threatening withdrawls. Its no longer a choice but a must. Of course if they knew the drug would do that to them they wouldn’t have ever started in the first place. Addiction doesn’t care what colour you are or how much money you have.

Leah September 13, 2010, 5:23 AM

“It’s no longer a choise but a must”

Nope - it was a choice in the first place - there is absolutely no argument against it. Additionally it IS there choice to continue using just as it would be their choice to quit, go to rehab, etc.

“Of course if they knew the drug would do that to them they wouldn’t have ever stated in the first place”
Once again, wrong. EVERYONE know what drugs will do to you - they just CHOOSE to try them any way.

Anonymous September 14, 2010, 3:54 PM

I have been volunteering at my daughters school for the past 2 years.My criminal check has come back fine. Now, I just received a letter that I am denied for what I did in my college years….mind you no drugs, weapons. Nope, a fake Id back when I was 16 1992 trying to obtain alcohol. Loud ordinance ticket when I was 17 1993 at a house I lived in college. Speeding ticket at age 21 - year 1996. I guess there won’t be hardly any volunteers in N.C. public school system since they are going to deny great community people with speeding tickets and fake Ids from 14 years ago. I though we are trying to make a change in the school system, not destroy it by denying great parents who want to better their children education. I guess I will have to resign PTA, no more field trips and tell the teachers I will not be volunteering because the state thinks I am a threat for bad college judgment 14 years ago. Once again, no drugs, no arrests.

Mary September 24, 2010, 9:10 AM

Background checks are a wonderful tool and they serve their purpose. Sometimes those in charge get tunnel vision and overlook what’s right in front of them. The town I live in resembles a cross between a Norman Rockwell painting and an LL Bean catalog. Every morning you see the mommies with their perfect hair and make-up standing outside the school holding their coffee mugs waving goodbye to their kids. Those same mommies can be seen on the weekends drinking themselves sick and doing more drugs than you would expect to see in a dive bar. People just don’t expect it because of the area. These are the same people who volunteer in the classrooms and chaperone dance class, field trips, etc. They are able to pass a background test because they’ve never been arrested for anything.

Patti October 3, 2010, 11:34 AM

I think the key point here is that this woman is a FORMER addict. She has been clean and sober for six years. Her crime was a non-violent one, and should have no impact on her ability to volunteer (as would, for example, someone who had committed a crime like embezzlement). By refusing her the chance to help out, the school is sending the message that no matter how hard you try to clean up your act, you’ll continue to be punished for the mistakes of your past. Great thing to teach our kids.

louise November 6, 2010, 6:30 AM

I am a 50 yr old mom who was diagoised with cancer2004, the drput me on narcotics for my severe pain that was caused by the dr via surgery (nerves etc).I have been on the narcotics for 7years and I am physically addicted, the dr said I will neverget off them. Problem, I made a so called friend who worked at a new chool district,(2004) she told the whole school I was ignored for everything I asked to do in the way of volunteering, I was so discriminated , everybody scattered-WORSE, My son is bullied made no friends in the past three years, what hypocrires to take it out on an 8 yr old child. But now it seems they are not going to get away with this now more!

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Anonymous December 28, 2010, 3:39 AM

I cannot believe some of these comments. Leah and Anna.. i wish I never took the time to read them because its sad theres so many people that can think like you.If you havnt been there then you have no idea whats its like. You really need to educate yourself on addiction.. Go sit in an AA or NA meeting, it would be really good for you, you will meet some the nicest and most caring people you ever will in your life. You are the kind of people that just make people suffering feel worse then they already do. Good luck educating your children when you find out they are experiencing with drugs because I highly doubt they will be interested in listening to your views on it. Recovered addicts should be educating kids in schools everyday, they will listen to someone who has gone through it and dosnt want to go back. Nobody chooses to be a drug addict, most start at a really young age because other kids are doing it and then they realise they can escapse their problems in life, maybe this person lost a parent at a young age and seen no point to life anymore, or got presribed opiates (painkillers) after an accident and became dependant on them, heroin and the pills the doctors are prescribing are all the same thing. You should take 10 seconds and have a look at yourself, try working on being a better person like Jennifer is doing.

Anonymous December 28, 2010, 3:55 AM

you people making the ridiculous comments should lock your kids inside if you dont want them around a person like her. Most people you see in a day are recovering addicts and you would never know. Just recently a school teacher in my town was found in the school parking lot passed out in his car with a needle in his arm and bottles of hide ur kids!! haha

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