House Pages Expelled for Chemical Abuse

Posted January 16, 2004 at 8:44am

Seven students were expelled from the House Page School last Friday after they were found abusing household cleaners.

School officials discovered the students apparently using aerosol dust cleaner — which can contain pressurized chemicals such as difluoroethane or tetrafluoroethane, often used on computers — as inhalants.

The practice, commonly known as “huffing,” involves intentionally concentrating chemicals such as household cleaners, hygiene products or glue into a plastic bag or other container, and then inhaling the substance to produce a brief high.

“The seven pages were dismissed for violating the [school’s] policy,” said House Administration Committee spokesman Brian Walsh, who declined to elaborate. “We don’t comment on personnel issues.”

The seven students were sponsored by four Republican and three Democratic House Members.

A spokeswoman for Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who serves as chairman of the House Page Board, declined to comment on the incident, referring inquiries to the office of the Clerk of the House. (The Clerk, under the direction of House Administration, oversees the page program.)

Similarly, a spokeswoman for House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, who also serves on the board, said administrative matters would be dealt with by the Clerk’s office.

According to a source familiar with the incident, however, school officials first became aware of the pages’ substance abuse after a female page who had been inhaling the dust cleaner fell and chipped her teeth.

“It eventually did come out that this was an activity that her friends were engaging in,” the aide said. “As soon as they found that out, the staff checked [the pages’] rooms and discovered cans, and [the pages] were immediately summoned to the Clerk’s office and dismissed.”

In a similar incident in May 2003, 10 Republican-sponsored House pages were removed from the program for allegedly using marijuana.

It is unclear whether changes could be made to the House Page Program to prevent future drug abuse by the students.

“Unfortunately, teenagers are going to submit to peer pressure and engage in these things. I don’t think it’s a reflection at all of the quality of people that are coming here,” the source said, later adding: “Obviously you’re not going to be able to be in their rooms and observe what they’re doing 24 hours a day.”

The page program, which dates back to the 1800s, allows high school juniors to study the House of Representatives up close by serving on the chamber floor while they continue a standard high school curriculum. To take part in the program students must meet academic requirements, provide letters of recommendation, write an essay and be sponsored by a Member.