TODAY | October 09, 2012
>>> hour with a caffein controversy at a high school out in illinois . four students suspended for consuming so-called energy mints , and their families are not at all happy. we'll talk to two of those students exclusively in a moment, but first nbc's kevin tibbles has their story. kevin , good morning.
>> reporter: hey, matt. well, the students from the pekin high school here in illinois say the suspensions will likely affect their grade and future education, and they say the mints they ate are perfectly legal . it all started when 17-year-old jake walker took these to school .
>> i don't feel that i should lose my education over a little mint.
>> reporter: they are caffein-in mints, perfectly legal , but to some school officials in pekin illinois they looked like drugs. jake and three of his friends were suspended for eating the mints during lunch.
>> this is 2012 , and caffein is caffein. i drink soda. jake drinks soda. i didn't see anything wrong with a caffein pill.
>> reporter: school officials issued this statement. pekin community high school approaches consumption of mood-altering substances very seriously given both the health risks at issue and a mission to keep both illegal and legal drugs and substances out of the school .
>> i see people bringing in energy drinks and coffee to school every day, so i thought, hey, it's healthier. why not dry to bring it in and maybe get a little bit more energy.
>> reporter: here's a caffein breakdown. a 16-ounce cup of coffee averages 100 milligrams of caffein. soft drinks contain anywhere from 35 to 55 milligrams in a 12-ounce serving. energy drinks have from 76 to 207 milligrams per serving, and caffein mints pack anywhere from 85 to 101 milligrams of caffein per mint.
>> if you want to get a lot of caffein, it's hard to do with a cup of coffee or an energy drink . you'll get bloated and too full after two or three drinks and stop. with mints, it's very easy to overdose because you just keep on popping them.
>> reporter: but jake and his friends missed homecoming as a result of their predicament and aren't very happy about it.
>> instead of going to homecoming, i was at home alone doing nothing and very upset.
>> reporter: jake says he and the other students are likely to be back in school later this week, but this case raises an important question for students, parents and educators alike. what sort of impact is caffein, whether it's in a drink or a mint or a candy having on our kids? matt?
>> all right, kevin . thank you very much. eric mcmichael and bradley malcolm were two of the students suspended here with brad's dad jason and bradley's mom marcy.
>> good morning.
>> guys, hang on. you get a call from the school . your sons are in possession of controlled substances . you couldn't have thought this was about a mint.
>> what was your worst fear?
>> my worst fear was actually something bad?
>> pot, meth, coke, i mean, any of the above.
>> we were just worried that this is the moment, oh, my gosh, there's the moment where your child is -- every moments you as parents dread.
>> and then you find out that the substance is a caffein energy mint for lack of a better expression. now give me your feeling.
>> at that point they sent eric home from school . at that point i thought the school was just being cautious. i'm all for that. he said he wanted to get the product tested to verify it's not an illegal drug and that it is what they said it was so i think the suspension was in the cards at that point.
>> mom, what did you think?
>> when i got the call after they told me it was a mint, that he would continue on with his three-day suspension and not allowed to go to homecoming, i was floored. it's a mint. these kids bring coffee into the school .
>> so guys, you know, with you incredulous when you were told you were actually being sent home? did you think this would all be cleared up and there would be no harm, no foul?
>> yeah. i thought i was going to come back to school on like friday.
>> and yet you still haven't gone back to school , have you?
>> here's what the school superintendent said in a statement. school representatives eventually learned that the pills contained high doses of caffein. after the fact, it was determined that a single pill contained over 200% of the amount of caffein in a no-doz tablet and almost three times the amount of caffein as found in an entire can of red bull sports drink . although the pills were described by some of the students as energy mints , all the students at issue acknowledged that they were either told or understood before the distribution or consuming about the nature and the effect of the pills. the second part was important. were you told and were you warned about this?
>> were you told it was a mint or a canned?
>> a mint.
>> but were you told that it also had this extremely high dose of caffein and that it was intended to be a stimulant?
>> all i know is that it was just an energy drink in a mint form.
>> energy strike in a mint form is what he was told it was.
>> let me play a devil's advocate parent for a second. if my child is in this school and one of your sons gives him one of these energy mints and he has a bad reaction to it, might i not question the school and say why didn't you prevent this from happening?
>> i agree. one of the questions i asked the dean was are these energy mints illegal? are they not allowed in school since they do allow the red bull and monster and actually serve coffee at the school . it's available to the students. his reaction was no. the only reason they are in trouble or suspended is the product was unmarked.
>> so if it had been in some packaging that clearly identified what it was and it was in fact that product, you wouldn't be sitting here. you guys would be back in school .
>> that would be my understanding.
>> and he would have went to homecoming.
>> no school yesterday, columbus day holiday. is this an excused day off?
>> probably not.
>> the school just called and said you're suspended for longer now. will you be back in school tomorrow?
>> bygones bygones, or do you still have some lingering issues over this?
>> i'm wanting the record cleared. this is going to affect them for the rest of their lives. this will be on their high school transcript, could affect college, future jobs, reputations down the tubes so i want this wiped off their records.
>> we'll follow up with the school and see if that happens.
>> appreciate you all being here.
>> i was kidding about being suspended further. jasyc thank you.
>>> what do you think. should they have been suspended? head to today.com to weigh in on this subject. let's get