UPDATE: Pennsauken Middle Schoolers Sent to Hospital for Suspected Cannabis Consumption, Parents Say It Happened on Campus


UPDATE: Pennsauken Superintendent of Schools Ronnie Tarchichi says four students displayed physical signs of intoxication and were transported from the school campus for evaluation on Wednesday.

By Matt Skoufalos | February 14, 2024

Pennsauken Public Schools logo. Credit: Pennsauken Public Schools.

(UPDATE: February 15, 2024 — 1:09 p.m.) After four Pennsauken middle-schoolers were sent to the hospital Wednesday for suspicion of cannabis consumption, parents and district officials continue to sift through conflicting accounts of the incident.

Pennsauken Superintendent of Schools Ronnie Tarchichi initially believed that four sixth-graders affected in the incident had eaten cannabis gummies prior to the start of the school day.

A parent of one of the children involved challenged that account Thursday, saying their student was sober at the beginning of the day when they dropped them off. The parent shared their account of events on condition of anonymity.

“I personally drop my students off at school,” the parent said. “They were not high. In no way, shape, or form did they ingest anything before school.”

The parent said they received a phone call at 11:40 a.m. from Howard Phifer Middle School sixth-grade vice-principal Ralph Midora that their child had eaten some Valentine’s Day candy “and are not reacting well to it.”

The parent said they were told the school was calling 9-1-1, and they were urged to come to the campus as well.

Upon arrival, the parent said their child and another student were in the nurse’s office, where they displayed symptoms of intoxication.

“They were incoherent,” the parent said. “Couldn’t walk; eyes blurry. My child was zoned out and struggling to answer questions.

“The nurse said, ‘Their vitals seem fine, but because we don’t know what they ingested, the school has to send them to the hospital.’”

The parent said that their child was “touch and go” Wednesday evening, but is better now. They also specifically challenged the initial report that the children affected by the substance ingested it prior to the start of the school day.

“This happened in second-period gym,” the parent said. “The student said, ‘I have some Valentine’s Day candy, do y’all want some?’ [My child]  ate a green gummy, and said it tasted weird. They started to have side effects in the next class.”

Tarchichi said that the district is still investigating the incident, and has since received conflicting reports from building administration about the details involving the edible consumption.

“It could be true; we heard something different,” the superintendent said. “We thought it was before school. We do know that the student took [the candy] from a parent.”

Tarchichi did confirm, however, that the school went into a shelter-in-place order after the first students demonstrated signs of intoxication. He also said the district was waiting to issue any statement on the situation until the details of its investigation were firmed up.

“There’s no protocol” for notifying parents of a shelter-in-place for an incident of this type, he said. “We can’t notify parents until we have all the facts.”

The superintendent further said incidents like these are fewer at the high-school level because the district has more robust search and screening protocols at the entrance to the building. He believes those measures may now have to be implemented at the middle-school level as well.

“This doesn’t happen in the high school,” Tarchichi said. “We have thorough searches. I think I’m going to have to do the same thing in the middle school.”


Four students were transported from the campus of Howard Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken Wednesday morning after having had an apparent adverse reaction to controlled substances.

Pennsauken Superintendent of Schools Ronnie Tarchichi said the students displayed signs of impairment on campus, and are believed to have consumed cannabis gummies prior to arriving for the day.

School officials called for paramedics, parents were notified, and the students were transported to an area hospital for further evaluation.

“If we think a student is high on anything, we call an ambulance,” Tarchichi said.

The superintendent said he believes that one of the students obtained the edibles from a parent’s supply in this instance, but also reported an increasing concern about the general prevalence of cannabis in the community, both through regulated and unregulated markets.

“Kids are bringing vapes and gummies to school; I’m seeing it more and more,” Tarchichi said. “We shouldn’t be dealing with students coming to school high on gummies. It’s a problem educationally and for their health.”

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission notes that hemp-derived Delta-8 products, which produce a euphoric effect similar to that of cannabis-derived THC, “can be easily found in convenience stores, smoke shops, and gas stations,” which may lead children to presume they are safer to consume.

A school policy guidance document prepared by New Jersey Prevention Network for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) in April 2023 noted both the broader availability and higher-strength concentration of hemp-derived and cannabis-derived products as compared with those from a few generations ago.

That document also pointed out that students in a post-novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic landscape “have experienced unprecedented isolation and stress while trying to navigate complicated social issues with the rapid integration of technology such as social media into our collective everyday lives,” thereby setting them up for the kinds of mental and behavioral health challenges that can lead to substance use.

Its recommendations include strict no-tolerance policies of substances on campus, but also that districts adopt supportive policies to help students deal with potential addictions and behavioral health concerns.

“With the immediate and future health risks that students face if they are experimenting with marijuana, it is also critical to move away from the ineffective punitive response to student substance use, opting for a more constructive and educational approach while identifying their need for supportive services,” the document reads.

For a first offense involving drugs or alcohol, the Pennsauken Schools student code of conduct mandates a two-to-10-day suspension from school with a counseling component and police intervention.

Greater penalties, including hearings with the district Board of Education and potential removal from the district to “a more restrictive learning environment” could follow as well, Tarchichi added.

Pennsauken Police said that Wednesday’s incident remains under investigation. Stick with NJ Pen for updates.

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