Originally created 02/23/01

Fourth medicine theft rattles Clarke County school district



ATHENS, Ga. - For the fourth time in five months, hundreds of Ritalin tablets have been stolen from a Clarke County school.

Nearly 400 of the tablets - and a few dozen tablets of other drugs - were stolen from Coile Middle School near Winterville last weekend, according to school district officials. The theft was not discovered until Tuesday morning, because school employees and pupils were out of school Monday for Presidents Day.

In September, nearly 300 prescription Ritalin pills were stolen from Coile Middle School in two separate incidents. One month later, more than 100 of the pills were stolen from Whit Davis Elementary School in southeastern Clarke County.

"The continuation of this is very wearisome," Clarke County School Superintendent Lewis Holloway said Tuesday afternoon. "This is a troublesome dilemma. How do you protect the kids and their school when obviously outside people would go to such great lengths to get what they want?"

Coile Middle School Principal Tim Jarboe said Tuesday that medicine bottles belonging to 16 pupils were taken. The bottles together contained 390 Ritalin pills, 41 Adderall pills and 11 Clonidine pills, a total of 442 pills. Adderall and Clonidine are used to treat hypertension.

The school is going to reimburse parents for the medication, Mr. Jarboe said. And because the medications are controlled substances, the school will send letters that parents can present to their children's doctors explaining the need for additional medication.

"We're just shocked. ... We feel very frustrated that this has happened," Mr. Jarboe said. The thefts, he said, create a sense of a lack of safety in the school, and can distract pupils from learning.

Mr. Jarboe said the latest theft seemed to be unrelated to the first thefts at the school, in which there were no obvious signs that the cart in which the medicine was stored was forcibly entered.

"It's very different from the first incidents - this time a bolt cutter was used to cut the padlock off the cart, the medicine drawer was pried open, and ceiling tiles in (the room where the medicine cart is stored) and in an adjoining room had been moved," Mr. Jarboe said.

The case was more similar, Mr. Jarboe said, to the Whit Davis theft, in which the police said the thief forced open a locked office where the medicine cart was stored, and the locked medicine cart itself.

While circumstances in the latest medicine theft at Coile Middle indicate some force was used to get into the medicine cart, there has been no evidence in any of the thefts that the school itself was forcibly entered.

"There does not appear to be any forced entry into the school," said Frank Platt, a former Athens-Clarke County police officer who is director of security for the Clarke County School District. "It's just puzzling, to say the least."

The theft occurred sometime between the close of school Feb. 16 and early Tuesday morning, Mr. Platt said. Officers with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department are investigating the theft. Sgt. Rick Hammond said Tuesday afternoon that a report on the case had just been filed and he had not had time to read it.

Public schools typically dispense medication for children at the request of parents. A child usually reports to the office, where a staff member dispenses the medication provided and keeps track of each dose on a chart.

At Coile Middle School, those medications are kept in the locked medical cart, which is stored in a locked room off the school's main office during the day and in a locked office closet each night.

Since the first Coile thefts, schools throughout the district have tightened security measures for prescribed medication, including reducing the number of people who have keys to the cart and keeping the locked cart inside a locked room off school offices.

"We just never would have thought that anyone would have gone to those lengths. Both rooms - the room with the medicine cart and the adjacent room - had been re-keyed, and only two sets of keys exist to those rooms," Mr. Jarboe said. He and a school secretary have the sets of keys, Mr. Jarboe added.