Several 11-year-old boys are facing juvenile misdemeanor charges in Ohio after being caught using nicotine vapes in the bathroom of their middle school.
The severe penalty is drawing criticism in St. Clairsville, Ohio, particularly from the grandmother of one of the students punished for using a vape on school property. Two weeks after serving a Saturday detention for their actions, Jeff Gazdik, the resource officer for St. Clairsville Middle School, called the nine students to his office and had them sign a legal form related to their offense without the knowledge of their parents, reports The Intelligencer and Wheeling News Register.
Gazdik, who notes vaping on school property is against state law, says the document was a citation acknowledging the charge, and does not equate to an admission of guilt. He equated the situation to a speeding ticket, saying he does not need to call a 16-year-old’s parents to legally punish them for a traffic violation.
“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,” the grandmother of one of the unidentified students told The Intelligencer and Wheeling News Register. “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.”
The case was sent to the Belmont County Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office by Gazdik for review. Gazdik said he told prosecutors the students should be placed in a diversion program that would educate them about vaping instead of pursuing prosecutions. If the students successfully complete the diversion program the prosecutor will dismiss the charge, however, the coordinator of the diversion program will still have the power to place the students on probation. (RELATED: School Locks Up Bathrooms To Students Over Vaping Hysteria)
The grandmother notes that her grandson already went before a judge who fined him $75.
“So these boys have been punished three times for one stupid mistake,” the grandmother told The Intelligencer and Wheeling News Register. “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.”
School officials throughout the country are warning parents about the alleged dangers of vaping, which they say has skyrocketed in popularity with teens. Many fear this will lead to students smoking combustible cigarettes, despite the fact youth smoking rates are at historic lows. Public school officials in New Jersey are beginning to classify the nicotine delivery devices as “drug paraphernalia.”
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey, released Dec. 14, shows reported cigarette use among 12th graders fell to 4.2 percent this year, down from 24.6 percent in 1997, even as the number of youth experimenting with vaping devices increased.
Advocates of smoking alternatives say alarmism over vaping misses the larger point about e-cigarettes; namely, that they are a harm reduction tool helping millions of American smokers quit combustible tobacco.
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