Board listens

Members of the Hawkins Co. Board of Education listen as Director of Schools Matt Hixson describes his recommended changes to the tobacco and e-cigarette policy.

ROGERSVILLE — Youth vaping was again a topic of discussion at November’s Hawkins Co. BOE meeting, as the board voted in favor of Director of Schools Matt Hixson drafting a new, strengthened tobacco and e-cigarette policy.

The new discipline policy would apply to all Hawkins Co. Schools, as the school system has seen tobacco and e-cigarette violations in Intermediate, Middle and High schools. Hixson will bring the drafted policy before the board at their January meeting for their approval.

The initial discussion began at the board’s October meeting, where members voted to allow Director of Schools Matt Hixson to compile ideas for more effective education and punishment for students who are caught with e-cigarettes.

At the October meeting, Vice Chairman Debbie Shedden shared that Hawkins Co. Schools had already encountered a total of 54 ‘incidents’ involving e-cigarettes on school property.

This broke down to 20 ‘incidents’ at Cherokee High, 24 at Volunteer High, seven at Surgoinsville Middle, two at Church Hill Middle and one at Church Hill Intermediate.

Current e-cigarette discipline policy

“The use or possession of tobacco, including smokeless tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and associated paraphernalia by students will not be permitted anywhere on the school grounds or in buildings,” reads the current Hawkins Co. Middle and High School handbook. “The use or possession of tobacco in any form will not be permitted on county provided transportation. Possession or use of lighters or matches will not be permitted on school grounds, in buildings, or on county provided transportation.”

“It is considered a level three violation, which would result in 40 points, and that could result in 1 to 5 days (of in-school suspension) if the student who is caught using vapes does not have prior infractions,” Hixson explained at October’s meeting.

Three new changes to tobacco and e-cigarette policy

After October’s meeting, Hixson met with numerous school officials and also heard recommendations from BOE student representatives in order to draft the following proposed changes.

The board voted at November’s meeting for Hixson to begin drafting the new policy that would include these changes.

The first of these increases a violation of the tobacco and e-cigarette policy to a level four infraction. This results in 75 points and between one to five days of in-school suspension depending on the student’s record.

“We could then assign 75 points should the student pass or provide the device to others, 50 points if it’s just themselves, and it’s a first-time offense” he said. “But we need to be very consistent if we’re going to move forward with that and make sure that all three high schools and all middle schools are enacting these potential changes to the vaping policy.”

The new policy would also assign violators three one-hour sessions of vaping education that would be held at the Hawkins Co. Justice Center and led by the county Sheriff’s Department. The curriculum would be provided by the school system.

Hixson noted that members of the Sheriff’s Department have already agreed to host said education sessions.

“This gives it a little more teeth to some of our students by having an officer teach those courses,” he said.

He also noted that the aforementioned punishments would apply for every time a student is caught with tobacco or e-cigarette paraphernalia on school property.

In addition, Coordinated School Health Director Erika Phillips is also implementing a new video-training program called Catch My Breath throughout the system. The program’s website calls it a “e-cigarette and JUUL prevention program,” and Hixson told the board that it is “spreading as we speak.”

Using e-cigarettes could land students in Juvenile Court

Hixson also explained that the new discipline policy would consistently refer students caught with tobacco or e-cigarette paraphernalia to Juvenile Court.

“Currently what happens is that administration assigns that student discipline, they are referred to the SRO, then the SRO makes the decision based on that student’s level of discipline and egregiousness whether or not they are referred to Juvenile Court,” he said. “We would recommend that is a forgone conclusion for those offenders.”

He also noted that the violator’s parents will be involved in the discipline process from the beginning and are notified before the student takes the educational classes at the Justice Center. Parents have also been notified of the Catch My Breath curriculum and are required to attend a meeting with their student and school officials should the student acquire 75 disciplinary points.

“We feel that this is a good approach, as it strengthens our discipline procedures for vaping, but it also works on the educational piece and the proactiveness of helping students avoid future infractions,” he added.