Schools alter smoking policy

Pupils using tobacco will have to attend cessation classes

December 09, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

Students who are caught using tobacco at school will be required to go to smoking-cessation classes under a new policy approved by the county school board.

The policy went into effect after the panel approved it, 5-0, at Monday's board meeting.

The previous policy required a five-day suspension and a parent conference for first-time offenders. Under the new policy, students receive a one-day suspension and must attend a one-hour tobacco cessation class, and a parent-teacher conference is held. A student who does not attend the class will get a five-day suspension.

"We want to try a different approach than pure punishment," said schools superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas. "We're trying to use an approach to modify kids' behaviors. We want them to be healthy and to decrease risky behavior."

A school tobacco program specialist from the county health department will teach the cessation class. First-time violators will attend a hourlong class to learn about health awareness and the dangers of smoking. Second-time violators will take six hours of cessation classes.

The classes will be held at different schools, libraries and community sites around the county, depending on where they are needed, said Stephen C. Lentowski, director of student services for county schools.

Public schools systems in other jurisdictions have similar policies. Since 1998, Howard County students caught with tobacco have been required to attend a Saturday class. They can go to tobacco cessation classes held by hospitals, health departments or cancer associations, said Howard schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

In Carroll County, students can attend a Saturday smoking-cessation class in lieu of suspension. For 15 years, the school system's teachers have led Saturday cessation classes. This year, Carroll County schools formed a partnership with the county's health department, which now oversees the Saturday classes.

Similarly, Harford's school system is collaborating with the local health department.

"It's consistent with what we're already doing for students with alcohol and drug violations," Lentowski said. "Students are subject to evaluation and would have to go through a program. It didn't make any sense not to do something similar for tobacco, since most people in the health field would say that tobacco is a class of drug, just [like] street drugs, prescription drugs."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 23 percent of high school students and 8 percent of middle school students in the United States are cigarette smokers.

"The overall goal is to help students with their habit," Haas said. "Students wouldn't be suspended as long. So that's a win. We'll have a student in school and have them reconsider a harmful habit."

Change in consequences

Old Smoking Policy New Smoking Policy

First offense

Five-day suspension / One-day suspension

Required parent conference / Required parent conference

/ One-hour tobacco cessation program

Second offense

10-day suspension / Five-day suspension

Required parent conference / Required parent conference

/ Three sessions of tobacco cessation program (six hours)

Third offense

10-day suspension from school / 10-day suspension from school

Referral to the superintendent / Referral to the superintendent

Possible expulsion

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