Fermented tea sparks bout on banned substances in schools

After administrators considered suspending a student carrying a beverage with less than 0.5% alcohol, a mother takes to her blog for support.

October 16, 2012|By Jill Cowan

A local mom took a beef with school officials to the Internet last week after her son was sent to the vice principal's office for having in his lunch a glass bottle of fermented Kombucha tea, which contains small amounts of alcohol.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials said administrators followed standard protocol in a situation possibly involving banned substances after the Ensign Intermediate School seventh-grader was overheard telling other students he had alcohol.

But the 11-year-old boy's mother was "irate" over the school's response.

She alleged on her blog, "Fresh and Free in OC," that school officials "interrogated" the boy, and "treated him as a criminal" by having a school resources officer present in meetings — despite the fact that Kombucha is an increasingly popular alternative to sugary sodas or juices.


"He loves Kombucha. He loves educating the other students on the detriments of processed food and sugar," wrote the mother, who the Daily Pilot interviewed but is not naming because of her son's age. "So how does he deserve this?"

The boy was initially called into Vice Principal Mary Jo Vecchiarelli's office Oct. 9, where administrators called his mother but weren't able to reach her, district spokeswoman Laura Boss said.

Because the mother, who only uses her first name on her blog, couldn't be reached, the incident carried over until the next day, a half school day, during which the boy waited and studied in the administrative office, Boss said. He also signed a document acknowledging that he was potentially facing suspension, as is standard.

The district's official policy says a "student may be subject to suspension or expulsion" if it is determined that he or she has possessed, used, sold or was under the influence of any controlled substance as defined by law.

According to the Kombucha brand Búcha's website, which is the drink the mom said she packed in her son's lunch, the beverage contained "less than 0.5% alcohol," which comes from the fermenting process and is not enough to get someone drunk.

While home brews sometimes contain more alcohol, as long as a commercially sold Kombucha's alcohol content is below 0.5%, it is not categorized as an alcoholic beverage by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

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