December 21, 2001

Eliminating the bane of several generations of high school students and a large majority of current ones -- lavatories saturated with tobacco fumes --  is the objective of a crusade undertaken by a Brandywine High School teacher.

Don Wood asked the Brandywine district school board to establish a policy to fine youngsters caught smoking in lavatories or anywhere else on school property. Having to pay a significant amount for taking a puff should effectively discourage the practice, he said.

After Wood, who teaches health, made an impassioned plea at the board's meeting on Dec. 20, superintendent Bruce Harter immediately agreed to draft a proposal for board action in time for it to be included in the district's code student conduct code before the next academic year.

"Where were you when I was [a student] at Concord [High] ? Even though there was a smoking [area] then, we couldn't use the bathrooms," board member Janice Tunell remarked. She graduated in the late 1970s. A few years earlier, in an effort to provide smoke-free facilities, the school designated an area just outside one of its entrances as a place where students were allowed to smoke. That was before the public became fully conscious of the health hazards in the practice.

Neither having a designated area nor later public support of smoke-free environments ever solved the problem. Wood referred to the lavatories at Brandywine High as "Marlboro country."

School smoking areas have long since been eliminated and student smoking is now a disciplinary offense. Wood noted, however, that Brandywine High still has such an area for faculty and other adult staff members at the building's loading dock.

Students caught smoking or with evidence of having smoked or chewed tobacco in any Brandywine district school, face a one-day suspension.

Wood described application of that sanction at Brandywine High as zero-tolerance, but questioned its effectiveness. "They don't care about being suspended -- and it's counterproductive to education anyway," Wood told the board.

Instead, he said, violators should be fined amounts beginning at about $25 and going up to as much as $90 for repeat violations.

He said that is done in some Pennsylvania and New Jersey districts, either administratively or by having students charged with a criminal offense. He said his research indicates that Delaware's indoor air quality law would permit the school district to assess a penalty.

Money collected, he said, could be used to finance a smoking-cessation program to help students kick the habit.

He said about 15% of Brandywine High students are asthmatic, but that clearing the lavatories has a good deal more support than that. "When I talked about it in [a] ninth-grade class, the kids applauded," he said. 

2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read about Teen Smoking