Is OPRF mixing messages on students who smoke?

On campus it's a suspension. Off 'school grounds' OK if an adult

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Oak Park and River Forest High School says it is definitely not OK for any student to smoke on campus. 

It's when some students are off campus that things get a little fuzzy, school officials admit.  

OPRF's Student Handbook is being updated this summer, as it usually is this time of year. A tweak in the book's student behavior and responsibilities section says that students who choose to smoke must do so "off school grounds." According to the previous wording, it was "at least two blocks away from the school." That language has been in the handbook for a number of years. 

The seemingly minor rewording stirred a not-so-minor debate at a recent school board meeting. 

The District 200 Board of Education, which governs OPRF, approved this summer's revisions to the handbook on June 26. The smoking change is under the handbook's "Guidelines for Behaviors in Specific Areas" with respect to the East Avenue Mall, where some seniors and juniors who leave campus for lunch congregate. The change was initiated by school administration. 

The board did some additional wordsmithing by adding the phrase "students who are of-age" must smoke off campus. In Illinois, the legal age to smoke is 18 years old. The board, though, left it to the administration to insert the appropriate legal age under the law.  

Board member Sharon Patchak-Layman questioned whether the school is sending a mixed message about students and smoking.

"I'm confused about how we make the delineation on that, where we say that students who smoke should do so off school grounds, but yet we have a Code of Conduct that gives consequences for it, but that we also expand it to be on the way to and from school."

Tobacco use or possession for a first offense results in a one day in-school suspension (ISS), under OPRF's Code of Conduct. Additional offenses result in additional consequences. The increasingly popular e-cigarettes are handled the same as regular cigarettes under the Code of Conduct. 

OPRF Principal Nathaniel Rouse acknowledged the difficulty some have with the policy.

"The mixed message that Ms. Patchak-Layman speaks of is really difficult, because, again, on campus, of course, we're a non-smoking institution. There are policies that speak to tobacco, electronic cigarettes and things of that nature. However, we do also have to explicitly state that if you're of age—and I think that's what we're saying — if you're of age, that needs to be done off campus," Rouse says.

The school's policy, Rouse added, does also impact the surrounding neighborhood and greater Oak Park community. 

Under the "portal-to-portal" concept OPRF uses, the school can punish students for certain infractions that do take place off-campus that filters back into the school, Rouse says. 

The high school has punished students for improper behavior taking place on social media websites, such as bullying. A half-dozen OPRF student athletes were suspended in 2007 after photos were sent anonymously to the school showing them at an off-campus party where alcohol was served, which violates the school's Athletic Code of Conduct. The players were suspended from playing in their respective team games. 

But if 18-year-old students are smoking around the immediate neighborhood, that's hard for the school to punish, said Rouse. 

"I think the difficulty that we experience with port-to-port and with smoking is that this becomes the gift and the curse in being in a residential area," he said. "Students know that across the street from our school is difficult for us, as a school, to consequence them for things such as smoking. And so what happens is when kids are across the street, the neighbors call us. We inform the neighbors that they have to call police. It is a very difficult thing to navigate with the parents of the students, as well as with the community."

For Kristine Raino-Ogden, a member of anti-substance group IMPACT, the "of age" reference is not problematic to her, but that the old language was a bit odd, she said, and did send a mixed message.

"It would be least ambiguous to simply state, 'The use of tobacco in any form by students on school property is prohibited.' Why do they have to mention where they can go to smoke?" she said.

Still, cigarette use among some OPRF students is low compared to marijuana and alcohol use, according to OPRF's most recent Illinois Youth Survey results. 

Given biennially by the state since 1990, the survey is taken by high school sophomores and seniors each spring, with results released in the fall. Just under 1,200 OPRF students in those classes took the 2012 survey. Of those, 10 percent of sophomores and 21 percent of seniors reported using cigarettes within the previous year. 

By comparison, 37 percent of the 10th graders and 51 percent of OPRF's seniors reported using marijuana over that period. For alcohol use during that period, 76 percent of seniors and 62 percent of sophomores reported using. 

About the same number of OPRF students took this year's survey, according to OPRF.  

Reader Comments

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Posted: July 7th, 2014 12:55 PM

Yet another item to fill the pages of a Handbook where guidelines and rules are NOT enforced anyway. This handbook serves to pacify nervous parents that want to believe all is well within the school. All it does is gives a false sense of security. ENFORCE what is already in print. The kids know who really runs the school and it's NOT the current administration. It's the parents and their kids & the over-paid teachers.

Walter Sobchak  

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 12:14 PM

Dude, sorry that Donny is acting like Donny. We all know you like White Russians. Donny, you're out of your element! Now, if you excuse me, with the holiday tomorrow I have to get ready for Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest.

In Glen Ellyn formerly from OP  

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 8:22 AM

cont'd. ly declaring the federal ban on recreation use of marijuana, and by inference, smoking of marijuana (the typical means of using the recreational drug), will not be enforced, negating years of the legislative process and attention, and hundreds of millions of dollars in domestic and foreign efforts, not to mention law enforcers' and civilian lives in the persuit of the enforcement by a single sweeping statement? So much for setting a good example for those most in need of one.

In Glen Ellyn formerly from OP  

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 8:12 AM

Hardly arguable are the most effective ways to handle behavior control- set a good example of behavior yourself and impose fines wherever the behavior violates or intrude upons the common good. Referring to the latter- why isn't the careless discarding of cigarette butts (that can take many years to biodegrade) not a fineable littering offense? Is that an offense just not enforced? Which refers to the former- why has the chief law enforcer of the country violated his oath of office by public-

In Glen Ellyn formerly from OP  

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 7:45 AM

Well said, The Dude, on both accounts, that smoking is simply dumb (as it is indisputably hurtful and irresponsible to oneself and anyone nearby), and that off-campus morons are free to do what is otherwise legal to do. This wording issue is truly dwarfed by the overbearing larger issues alluded to by other commenters here concerning the school's jurisdictional reach of behavior control and smokers' blatant disregard to physical health of oneself and orhers, regardless of legal age.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 1:41 AM

From reading this article, it seems like the handbook shouldn't say anything about what is done off campus. It's off campus and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the school. Or is it? Am I missing something?

The Dude  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 8:33 PM

I see, as oppose to hating on smoking? Yeah, great advice, Donny! Hope you're enjoying that sweet tar flavor. I bet you look so rebellious trying to impress those 14 year old girls.

Donny Kerabatsos  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 3:13 PM

Dude, stick to hating The Eagles, enjoying Black Russians, toking up and bowling. Shalom!

The Dude  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 1:54 PM

Joe Camel, Thanks, you just reminded me about another point. Smoking increases stress, despite what the morons that think it relaxes you say, as it raises your heart rate. We can also add yellowing teeth and fingernails to the long list of issues these teens can look forward to.

VIolet Aura from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 12:38 PM

LOL @ nanny state bee ess! When I entered OPRF in 1980, I remember thinking it was weird that students were allowed to smoke on the student mall. I would have an occasional cig here and there and it was fine and dandy. I will never forget the day I was in gym class, we go out on the mall (probably to the tennis courts) and some chick handled me a cig and we were smoking during gym. I am against prohibitions.

Paul from Oak Park  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 11:24 AM

What's interesting is that many of the parents of OPRF students likely have health insurance policies where they have to positively attest that they DON'T smoke, otherwise they have to pay a higher insurance premium. Even with policies offered under Obamacare, if you smoke, you pay a higher premium. So, smoking students MAY eventually make their parents pay more for insurance.

Joe Camel from Flavor Country  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 9:22 AM

@TheDude Whoa baby, you need to relax. You seem stressed. What better way to relax than with a pack of Camel Full Flavor. Oh, and no need to worry. Your ED will be around, regardless of if you smoke. Happy smoking!


Posted: July 2nd, 2014 8:29 AM

What is so difficult here? At 18 they are allowed to smoke, just not on school property. Of course, this means they can smoke on the public sidewalk surrounding the school, or stand across the street smoking and tossing butts onto the ground in front of neighbors houses, but that is the nasty nature of smokers. The off campus debate including the 2007 incidents involved alcohol, which requires the student be 21 so that is entirely irrelevant. The school is not a parent to these youth .

David W Ristau from Lahaina, Maui  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 4:29 AM

@The Dude: well said. Mahalo!

The Dude  

Posted: July 1st, 2014 11:24 PM

The handbook should read; "if you're dumb enough to smoke cigarettes, greatly increasing your future of cancer, erectile dysfunction, bad breath, looking like a cliched '80s rebel, depression, looking 10 years older than you should, and you're off school grounds and of legal age, then feel free to be a moron and pump your lungs full of toxic chemicals away from our school."

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