In New Jersey, it is illegal to sell e-cigs to individuals under age 19, but that doesn’t stop teens from vaping. Local school districts have been scrambling to figure out how to handle ecigs, but some are taking things too far. This week, Kathleen Leone went to the press after school officials suspended her 16-year-old daughter for four days after an ecig was spotted in her purse. She says the school district went too far, treating the ecig as drug paraphernalia and giving a harsher punishment than was necessary.
Ordinarily, students at the same school are given Saturday suspension if they are discovered smoking a cigarette. But the e-cig rules are unclear in the written policies so administrators decided to treat them as drug paraphernalia rather than tobacco products. When the ecig was discovered in the teen’s purse, she was instructed to go to the nurse’s office for drug testing. The school called Leone to get her permission for the test and she refused “on principal”. Her daughter has never had any previous history of drug use and she argued that having an ecig in her pocketbook was far from enough evidence to justify drug testing. But the school treats a test refusal the same as failing a test and so the teen was suspended for four days.
Leone said the school is basically just making up the rules as they go and it is unfair to students that are getting caught in the crosshairs. “You can’t just arbitrarily make up a rule and start enforcing it and suspending kids,” she complained. Principal Dennis Mulroony said the rules are built to protect students, not to be unfair. “Drug paraphernalia as a whole is constantly changing,” he said. “As the building principal, I feel we have to err on the side of caution. To assume it’s just an e-cigarette – that’s a dangerous thing because that’s putting a child at risk.”
Superintendant Scott Rixford said the school made the right decision because some students could use e-cigs to smoke marijuana or THC oil. However, he conceded that some kids could also smoke marijuana by rolling it in cigarette paper. He said that there is no way to be sure that every rule is fair every time so the school just has to do the best they can in each individual situation. “We could never have such an exhaustive list of what constitutes drug paraphernalia,” Rixford explained. “It keeps expanding and expanding because kids find ways around the system. That’s the nature of kids.”
Leone said the school went too far this time and she hired an attorney to challenge the school’s suspension policy. Attorney Laura Siclari said the school’s written policy is not clear and does not support their treatment of the teen. She also pointed out that a drug-related suspension is devastating for the 16-year-old as it will stay on her permanent record. “It’s added some stress onto her life and it’s put a taint of drug use onto a child who’s never had a history of even suspected drug use,” Siclari said. “No one’s disputing that she should have had a consequence for her actions.” However, Siclari said the appropriate punishment should have been the same as a tobacco offense rather than a drug-related consequence.
What do you think is an appropriate way to schools to handle e-cig infractions? Should vaping be treated as a tobacco-related offense or drug paraphernalia?