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“Zero tolerance” for student smokers
  1. Dunkirk Public Schools
  2. West Sixth Street
  3. Dunkirk, New York 14048, USA;
  4. mpericak{at}

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    Editor,—In 1993, the Chautauqua county department of health conducted an inquiry regarding public complaints that Dunkirk High School was not effectively addressing the problem of student smoking on school property. Discipline records indicated that 35 students had been caught smoking between November 1989 and November 1993, with the students receiving penalties ranging from in-school suspension to out-of-school suspension for repeated violations. Because many students were repeat violators, it became clear that the penalties imposed did not deter students from smoking on school property. Alternatives to suspension needed to be considered if student smoking on school property was going to be eliminated.

    The high school administration, with the cooperation of the county health department and the Dunkirk school board, developed a “zero tolerance” policy that provided for enforcement of Article XXIV, Section 2(c) of the Sanitary Code of the Chautauqua county health district. We implemented a new disciplinary procedure in December 1993 for all alleged violators of the Public Health Code, the Sanitary Code of Chautauqua county, and the New York Public Health Law. Students caught smoking in school would now be petitioned to appear before the Chautauqua county board either in person or with an attorney. If found guilty, they would receive penalties in the form of fines, community service, and mandated smoking cessation classes. The table outlines the yearly incident rate and respective penalties. It is clear that there has been a significant drop in the number of smoking instances since inception of our zero tolerance policy.

    The following are the procedures for an administrative hearing.

    • The school principal submits a letter, accompanied by a smoking incident report and copies of a student conduct report, for each smoking infraction reported, to demonstrate a history of the problem.

    • The health department issues a “Notice of Hearing”. This action will result in an administrative hearing unless the respondent chooses to enter into a stipulation.

    • A hearing will be held. The school must send a representative to testify.

    • Following testimony, the hearing officer makes a “findings of fact” report and offers recommendations to the board of health.

    • Upon finding of guilt, the board of health issues an order. A typical penalty would be a $250 fine or the option of performing community service supervised by the school.

    • The department of health will provide follow up to ensure completion of orders.

    The key to a successful school policy rests on three conditions: (a) agreement within the general public that smoking on school property is inappropriate and should not be tolerated; (b) cooperation and coordination among government health agencies, school boards, and school administration; and (c) thorough and accurate documentation informing all parties involved, including parents. A detailed report, complete with a scaled drawing of the area where the incident occurred, is essential in establishing guilt.

    Table 1

    Results of the “zero tolerance” policy