Vaping devices added to banned list at Pinellas County Schools

School board member Nicole Carr thanks staff for adding vaping devices to the list of prohibited tobacco and nicotine products during a June 25 public hearing.

LARGO — Pinellas County School Board members unanimously approved amendments to the district’s policies on tobacco and nicotine use during a June 25 public hearing, including adding vaping devices to the list of banned products.

The policy also was amended to prohibit possession of lighted tobacco products or devices regardless of contents.

The policy now says that no person is allowed to use tobacco or nicotine products or be in possession of any lighted tobacco or product or device in any school facility, including outside grounds or any vehicles owned by the school district.

The policy applies to all schools — elementary, middle, high school, adult and career learning facilities, and technical colleges.

Tobacco products include cigars, cigarettes, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff or any other substance or product that contains tobacco or nicotine, as well as any uses of electronic cigarettes/cigars, vaping devices or any other product designed or manufactured to imitate any of the products regardless of whether it contains tobacco or nicotine.

Board member Nicole Carr thanked staff for working on what she described as a “prevalent issue throughout our schools.”

“This is very near and dear to me as I see it becoming a problem in middle and high schools,” she said, adding that it was critical to add vaping devices to the prohibitions.

“It’s not like chewing gum,” she said. “It (vaping) is a serious issue.”

The board held three other public hearings on June 25. Members unanimously approved an amendment to the exceptional student education policy, which is done annually based on legislative changes and as required by the state Department of Education’s Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services.

During the third hearing, the board unanimously approved amendments to the code of student conduct. Amendments included an update to language regarding make-up work for absences in cases where the grading period ends before make-up work is complete.

The code of student conduct also was amended to include the changes to the tobacco and nicotine policy and to further define illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia. Lastly, the code was amended regarding the use of email for parent notification for detention of high school students.

The fourth public hearing item unanimously approved amends the policy on equal access for non-district sponsored student clubs and activities.

The federal Equal Access Act guarantees the right of non-school sponsored student clubs to meet on school grounds on the same basis as school-sponsored clubs, as long as such clubs meet certain conditions. Among other rules, these clubs must be student-initiated, student-led and located at middle and high schools.

Amendments approved include adding that activities are permitted during non-instructional hours on the same basis as school-sponsored clubs and activities that are allowed to use school facilities; that no supplement shall be paid to a school employee for supervising the clubs or activities; clarification regarding sponsorship; and updated language on permitted ways to announce meetings and activities.

United Way Suncoast award

Lori Matway, associate superintendent for Student and Community Support Services, announced that United Way Suncoast was one of seven of the state’s business leaders and partners awarded by the Florida Education Commissioner during the 2019 Learners to Earners Workforce Summit June 18 in Orlando.

The Commissioner’s Business Recognition Awards program is designed to recognize businesses and partners that have shown outstanding commitment to bringing positive change in improving students’ academic performance. United Way Suncoast received $1,000, which will go back into the program.

United Way has been supporting Pinellas County Schools for five years and has made a commitment to continue that support for another 25 years, Matway said. In 2014, United Way Suncoast pledged $100,000 to support two struggling elementary schools.

This year, United Way made a $50,000 commitment to support the Read on myOn partnership, which provides students with access to more than 8,000 e-books. The district in partnership with United Way applied for and was awarded a $4 million grant to support the first Community School model at Campbell Park Elementary.

Budget hearings

The board approved staff’s request to advertise public hearing dates on the district’s preliminary budgets and millage rates. The first date is Tuesday, July 30, 6:30 p.m., in the Conference Hall of the Administration Building, 301 Fourth St. SW, Largo. The second hearing will be on Sept. 10, 6:30 p.m.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.