09/11/07 — School tobacco policy prompts debate

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School tobacco policy prompts debate

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 11, 2007 1:45 PM

Wayne County Schools will comply with a state law making the school system tobacco-free by Aug. 1, 2008, but not before, several board of education members said Monday night.

The tobacco-free policy, a legislative bill proposed to go into effect in 2008, has been bandied about for months by school and health officials as a positive preventive measure. When it came time to vote Monday night, though, it almost failed for lack of a second.

School board member Dave Thomas made the motion for the policy. After a few moments, board member Rick Pridgen said he would second the motion as a segue to discussion.

"We really don't have a choice. This is mandated by the state, so we have to adopt the policy," Pridgen said.

He said his biggest concern was the target date.

"I think that as a past smoker myself, it's a tough decision to make up your mind to quit. I feel like if we have to impose that any earlier, we're not giving people a choice to do that," he said.

Pridgen said he feared imposing the policy sooner than the state suggested could result in some dissatisfaction, even losing some employees in the school system.

After brief discussion, board member George Moye amended the motion to reflect compliance with the state's target date. When it was put to a vote, Moye was the only one who did support it.

He said later that the issue should not be whether people stop smoking.

The policy, he said, "does not address whether or not they smoke. The important thing is this policy addresses whether or not you smoke on school property. This is one of those situations where the Board of Education really doesn't have any choice. It's state law."

Sprunt Hill, special assistant to the superintendent for auxiliary services, said the school system was selected as one of four counties to participate in the "Question Why" program and will receive a $1,500 grant toward implementing the policy by next August. The funding will assist with signage and education of parents, employees and staff about the change.

In addition to tobacco use, the school board also talked uniforms Monday, spending time with students and staff from the six schools that have adopted the new dress code.

A fashion show with commentary by representatives from each of the schools adopting the higher standard dress code consumed nearly 45 minutes of the meeting. Parents at the public schools had last spring voted in favor of the change, which features a move to khaki pants and colored shirts rather than jeans and T-shirts.

Carol Artis, principal at North Drive Elementary and a 21-year veteran in education, said the shift had been well-received.

"The behavior has been impacted positively," she said. "We want to be able to say that we have tried every positive initiative that we can for these children and I believe this is one of the most positive."

Tameshia Willoughby, a teacher and parent at Goldsboro Intermediate, said she has tried to steer students toward "the way the world needs to see them" and the dress code is in line with that.

"I can say that this has been the best year that I have had in my six years of teaching," she said. "Our students have more self-esteem about themselves. I don't see kids picking on each other. They just look so much more presentable."

Tammy Keel, assistant principal at Brogden Middle, has been pleasantly surprised by the feedback.

"I have people in our schools, parents in particular, that have said they have seen a calm in the school this year," she said. "We have seen a decline in our office referrals. These kids feel great about themselves."

Crystal Grant, whose daughter Morgan is a seventh-grader at the school, said she loves the uniforms.

"I have the privilege of dropping her off every morning. (Students) look like they're ready to learn," she said. "My only disappointment is the high school has not passed it. Maybe by the time she goes, they will."

School officials said they hope there will be other measurable benefits.

"We have been impressed with the initial results, especially from parents," said Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools. "Our hope is that once this gets under way, other schools will change their mind. In doing the research, we were told that discipline would go down and test scores would go up. We are going to keep our eyes on those."