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Officials believe campus smoking area sends wrong message

by Merrie Leininger

Although no one has a solution, many school and sheriff’s officials agree they can’t support a smoking area on Douglas High School campus as an effort to stop the pedestrian traffic across Highway 88.

Douglas County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Biaggini, who is a member of the Community Action Team, said some CAT members met with Sheriff Ron Pierini Friday and decided the DCSO could not push for a smoking area on campus because it sends the wrong message to students.

The Community Action Team is a group of Douglas County residents who take on issues important to county residents and advocate for those residents. In the past, the group has been successful in bringing peer court to DHS and clean-up crews to illegal dump sites.

At CAT’s meeting Thursday, the group decided to pursue a smoking area on campus as the best option to cut down on students crossing Highway 88 in order to smoke. Other students cross the street to buy snacks at AM/PM or to get lunch at area restaurants.

“It is viewed as endorsing kids smoking, which of course, we are not. The way I look at it, it’s reality – these kids are going to smoke. The main question is, do we feel the crosswalk is dangerous enough to allocate a spot for kids to smoke, thus, eliminate a whole lot of foot traffic?” Biaggini said.

– School officials. Douglas High School Principal Bev Jeans said she sees students put themselves in danger for their daily fix of nicotine or McDonald’s every day, but she still doesn’t feel like an on-campus smoking area is the answer. Jeans said a conservative guess is about 40 percent of students at DHS smoke.

“I kind of have a conflict because I see them walk across the street to smoke and I want them to be safe. I’m frustrated. Someone’s going to get hurt,” Jeans said.

On the other hand, Jeans said, she thinks smoking is a disgusting, dangerous habit and witnessed the effects of smoking as she watched her father die of lung cancer.

“I’ve never smoked. I think it is a huge health issue. And first of all, they shouldn’t have them (cigarettes). It’s illegal for them to buy it,” she said. “So what’s the message we’re giving kids if we let them smoke on campus? We’re saying this is not an important law to follow.”

Despite the fact that students should not be buying cigarettes, they are, and she said the staff spends a lot of time disciplining students who do smoke on campus.

“They’re hooked. They can’t make it four hours without a cigarette. We put a lot of energy into busting them,” she said.

Jeans said Truckee, Calif., High School had a smoking area for students when she worked there and it worked well.

“It cracked me up. They would be standing out there in the snow and wind when it’s 5 degrees. The rules were they had to keep it totally clean and if there were any fights, it would be closed, so it created a peer pressure situation that didn’t allow those things to occur,” she said.

– Board says no. School board members questioned about their opinions all said they could not support a smoking area on campus.

“I am absolutely, adamantly opposed to any kind of smoking area. It’s crazy to condone something that is not safe for kids. I don’t know why the kids go to that area to smoke. They could just as easily go someplace else to smoke,” said board member Michele Lewis.

She said a smoking area would not stop the students walking across the street to go to restaurants.

“We would still have a problem, which is how do we make (Highway) 88 safer to cross?” she said.

Lewis said she is looking forward to the next Community Action Team meeting to hear other sides of the issue.

Board member David Brady said the crosswalk and smoking issues are separate and cannot be considered together.

“With respect to smoking on campus, I can only speak for myself, but I don’t know if I could condone a separate area to smoke. I think that sends a mixed message,” Brady said.

He said he would like more information on getting a traffic light at that crosswalk, or installing a light at the intersection of Highway 88 and County Road and forcing students to walk to the crosswalk at the corner.

“I don’t have an answer, but I think a light would have to be in place. That would be something for the department of transportation and the county,” Brady said.

– Department of Transportation. Danny Lopez, local highway supervisor for the Department of Transportation, said the crosswalk must have 100 pedestrians per hour continually for four hours before a crossing light could be installed.

He also said a stop light at that site is not possible.

Closer to reality is a stop light at the intersection of County Road and Highway 88.

“We’ve looked at putting in a stop light so the kids would at least have a walk-don’t walk sign. That could be a possibility down the road. It’s not a for-sure thing, though,” Lopez said.

Lopez said there is not much else to be done.

“Right now, there is a lot of paperwork going on, so there is no for-sure answer,” he said.

– Consideration. Until an answer is arrived at, both the drivers and the pedestrians just need to be more considerate of each other, Lt. Biaggini said.

“We don’t have a lot of complaints, but if we have a unit there, that officer gets people yelling at him and making gestures towards the kids like, ‘Aren’t you going to do anything about these kids?’ Since it is a crosswalk, there is nothing we can do,” he said. “The kids think they’re bulletproof, but when a 600-pound vehicle hits them, it’s going to leave a mark, or worse.”

At the next Community Action Team meeting 2:30 p.m. March 23 at the DHS library, the issue will be discussed again.