ST. CLAIRSVILLE — “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” was once a rite of passage for young Americans.
By Shelley Hanson | February 12th, 2018
Through the 1970s and ’80s, the song of that name was an anthem of teenagers across the nation, and it even made an appearance in the popular 1979 film “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” Over the decades many youths have attempted to sneak an occasional cigarette in the restroom, even though “everybody knows that smokin’ ain’t allowed in school.”
What today’s students and parents may not realize, though, is that possession or use of tobacco or alternative nicotine products by minors is actually a crime. Ohio Revised Code section 2151.87 details the prohibition and the potential penalties for a violation.
The grandmother of one St. Clairsville Middle School student who got in trouble for “vaping” in a school bathroom is speaking out about her grandson’s punishment. But the school resource officer, Jeff Gazdik, said the nine boys who were using an electronic smokeless tobacco device were breaking the law — and also potentially harming their health by breathing in chemicals or nicotine.
The grandmother said her grandson and eight other boys first were punished by the school by receiving Saturday school detention in December. Her own grandson also was grounded by his mother for a week for the incident.
However, weeks later the students were told to come to the principal’s office to sign police paperwork related to the incident — without their parents’ knowledge or presence, the grandmother said.
She believes by forcing the children to sign the paperwork, school officials also forced them to admit to guilt in the vaping incident.
“Schools have been adamant about telling parents how important it is to be involved in school, but clearly they didn’t want parents around at this critical moment. I doubt any 11-year-old would fully understand the repercussions of the legal document they were signing,” she said.
“The whole incident is now in the hands of the legal system. These … 11-year-old boys are being formally charged with a juvenile misdemeanor for smoking in the bathroom. They will have a record, there will be fines and or fees, possible court appearance and the boys and their parents are required to attend a class on substance abuse.
“So these boys have been punished three times for one stupid mistake. The school has the legal right to take the actions they did — that doesn’t mean they should have. How many adults have walked away from a traffic ticket with only a warning? The boys needed the guidance of a parent in this situation and had the right to have them there.
“The parents should have been called — not notified a month later when the incident was taken to the next level, out of the school’s jurisdiction and into the legal system.”
Gazdik said he notified of the vaping incident when the school’s principal, Mike McKeever, called him to the office. All nine of the boys admitted to vaping in the bathroom at that time, he said.
Since the boys broke a juvenile law, the case was forwarded to the Belmont County Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office for review. Gazdik said he told the prosecutor he wanted the boys to be in a diversion program rather than be prosecuted. He said the program will be educational and conducted by the school’s nurse. It is meant to inform the students about the dangers of vaping, he said.
“Not only these kids, but lots of kids in other schools, don’t think it’s bad. They’re not educated on this. We spend a lot of money on alcohol prevention and drug prevention, but there’s other things, too,” Gazdik said.
“For the last few years, it’s become even more popular,” he continued. “The kids don’t take the time to educate themselves and the dangers.”
Regarding the paperwork signed by the students, Gazdik said the boys each signed a citation acknowledging what they were being cited for. Their signatures did not equate to admissions of guilt, he said. Regarding the parents not being there during the signing, Gazdik said when he pulls over a 16-year-old for speeding, he doesn’t ask their parent’s permission to give them a speeding ticket.
“It’s a minor misdemeanor citation. … Parents do not have to be present for them to sign that. … They were doing it on school time in a bathroom. To me, that’s wrong,” Gazdik said, adding he has given dozens of other citations for students smoking in the schools.
Gazdik said if the students agree to attend the diversion program instead of pleading innocent and going before a judge, once they successfully complete the program the charge will be dismissed.
He noted, however,that it is up to the diversion program coordinator whether a student will also be put on probation.
The grandmother on this case said her grandson is going to complete the diversion program but still had to go before a judge and was ordered to pay a $75 fine.