Clarke Central High School students and faculty face the issue of on-campus smoking throughout the year. As a result, administration and the security team have implemented deterrent strategies. “I think kids are tired of it, but we’re saying, ‘You know we’re tired of it, too.’ so we’re going to do what we need to do to get it out of here,” CCHS Principal Dr. Robbie P. Hooker said.
Clarke Central High School teachers are aware smoking on school campus has taken place for years. However, teachers have noticed an increase in the smoking in the restrooms during the 2011-2012 school year compared to previous years.
“(Smoking has) been a lot worse this year. People are smoking inside more this year, it seems. They’ve always smoked inside, but this year it seems like more people,” CCHS foreign language department teacher Meri Blackburn, who has taught for 15 years at CCHS, said. “I mean there would always be a few (people) that got away, but this year it seems a lot worse.”
Science department teacher Buddy Sims, a 28-year-veteran at CCHS, agrees with Blackburn and has seen an increase in smoking on campus.
“This is the worst year I’ve ever experienced and it’s all kind of smoking and it is epidemic. I would say it’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” Sims said.
Sims feels policies implemented at the beginning of the school year, which restrict students from eating lunch outside during school hours may be the reason for the surge in smoking within school walls.
“Part of the problem is that they don’t have anywhere else to go. They’re in the building; they can’t go outside at all. I don’t know if it’s that more kids are smoking, or that more kids are smoking inside,” Sims said.
The Parent Teacher Student Organization recognizes smoking as an issue of concern within CCHS. The PTSO hosted a meeting on Feb. 7 wherein parents, students, administrators and security team members discussed the issue and possible prevention strategies.
“The PTSO president came to Dr. Hooker because kids were going home complaining about the smell of smoke in the boys’ and girls’ bathroom and the marijuana smell,” Police Team Leader Reid said. “So, they came to Dr. Hooker and asked for a meeting for Dr. Hooker and I to explain to them what (we) are doing to try to deter the smoking in the bathroom.”
CCHS’ security team has established a system of monitoring the hallways in order to identify students who are smoking in the restrooms.
“We catch (the students) with the system we have. We always have somebody looking out and by the time we get in there you can see it’s full of smoke,” Reid said.
While the security team has a system to catch students, administrators and security find it hard to identify students.
“We cannot put security cameras in the bathrooms. And what do you think high school students are going to do (about smoking detectors)? They are going to stick something up there, so it will be going off all the time,” CCHS Principal Dr. Robbie P. Hooker said.
At the PTSO meeting, parents discussed one of the measures to prevent smoking on campus, which creates an obstacle for would-be smokers and others.
“Apparently one solution is to lock (the restrooms.) My son went to the (restroom) yesterday and he had to walk all the way to the other side of the school,” a CCHS parent in attendance at the meeting said. “He was late for class, and his teacher told him he had no excuse. It seems to me that’s not a solution. It seems to me there is no excuse to lock the (restrooms).”
After the meeting, other deterrents were employed. Anti-smoking posters have been on display throughout the building and messages have been placed in the morning announcements discouraging students from smoking.
As read on the morning announcements on Feb. 14 and Feb. 16, “Students, in recent weeks, we had an influx of smoking in the restrooms. This problem can trigger asthma attacks or cause other medical problems. Smoking on school district property is a violation of the Code of Conduct and there will be strict disciplinary consequences for violations. It is essential that we have a positive and healthy school environment, so please have respect for yourself and your peers. I encourage you to make smart choices as we complete the spring semester.”
However, Sims is not convinced these moves have been effective.
“It used to be confined to mostly the boys’ bathroom, but now it’s in the girls’ bathrooms and its girls and boys and they’re smoking pot and cigarettes,” Sims said. “But there doesn’t seem to be a lot (of a) difference.”
Consequences differ for students who are smoking marijuana rather than cigarettes. Students caught with marijuana on campus are criminally charged and are scheduled a hearing at the Clarke County School District Board of Education. However, charges depend on the age of the student. If a student is 17 or older, he or she will be arrested on campus. If the student is younger, the administration handles the case within the school before taking legal action.
“(For a) child caught with marijuana, depending on their age, they can be booked, handcuffed and taken out of here. We do notify the parents,” Hooker said. “For some parents it’s a scary sign. Some parents say, ‘I didn’t know my child was doing it.’”
The repercussions of a student getting caught on campus with cigarettes are set on a gradual scale. For the first offense, a student is given a day of In-School-Suspension. For the second or third offenses a student is given Out-of-School-Suspension, according to Reid.
As a parent of two CCHS students, Mary Byrne feels that consequences like ISS are not productive. She believes that non-punitive forms of discipline would be constructive.
“You always need the intention of helping. Again, is (ISS) helping? Ultimately, the idea is if a kid does something stupid, to help them,” Byrne said.
Despite the consequences imposed upon those caught smoking, Blackburn finds the smoking in the restrooms close to her classroom on the third floor of the West Wing to be a distraction to her students.
“The whole room smells like smoke. My students go to the bathroom and come out smelling like smoke. (Students) should be safe and I think that a safe environment should include (being) healthy,” Blackburn said.
Student opinion on campus varies. CCHS sophomore Charlotte Smith* is not bothered by students smoking in campus bathrooms, but she finds the smell to be a nuisance.
“I don’t want to smell like smoke, but I don’t care if they smoke in the bathrooms,” Smith said. “I went to the bathroom and (someone) told me, ‘You smell like smoke,’ and if someone hears that I don’t want someone being like, ‘Oh, she is smoking now.”
However, junior Chelsea Johnson* feels smoking should not be tolerated on campus.
“(Smoking personally affects me because) if I go in there and they are smoking it’s secondhand smoke, I could be getting high off their bad decisions,” Johnson said.
Administration and security will continue preventive strategies, including the encouragement of students to report when they witness or suspect smoking on school campus. Hooker feels that conscientious students may be the key addressing to the concern.
“If you see it, we’re trying to rid the problem,” Hooker said. “So, (students) need to be our eyes and ears to help us rid the problem.”