The Cherokee County School Board has unanimously approved an updated student discipline code for next school year, which significantly toughens punishments for student vaping.

Beginning on the first day of school, any students found with vaping devices or oil will be treated as if they are in possession of felony-level marijuana.

The “zero-tolerance” policy calls for punishments including immediate external suspension from school, long-term reassignment to an alternative school and possible expulsion.

According to Cherokee County School District, a rising number of students are using the devices at school.

“It’s an extreme measure, but this is an extreme situation that deserves an extreme measure,” said School Board Attorney Tom Roach at the school board meeting Thursday.

The policy will shift the burden to students to prove that their devices and oils do not contain marijuana-derived THC oil in order to avoid the most serious punishments, but even if that is proven, students still will face discipline for possessing nicotine-based or other vaping products.

Superintendent Brian Hightower said, in addition to communication shared with parents earlier this school year about the dangers of any vaping, his staff will launch a more extensive public awareness campaign next school year. This campaign will include a student public service announcement video contest, with a $500 cash prize donated by the Service League of Cherokee County.

“Students and their parents need to understand that vaping is dangerous: short-term, you can overdose and suffer serious resulting health problems or death; long-term, you can damage your brain and lungs … and maybe worse, as too little research has been done,” Hightower said. “We hope students who are vaping and may be addicted to nicotine or THC will heed this warning and seek immediate help for treatment.”

Also at the meeting, the school board filled the last leadership vacancies for next school year as part of its approval of the superintendent’s monthly personnel recommendations.

Lyn Turnell, a longtime CCSD educator with experience from the classroom to counselor’s office to assistant principal role, will advance to serve as director of student assessment. Jennifer Scrivner will take on a new role focused on research to further improve teaching and learning.

Thomas Davis, a successful programmer, coder and product developer in the private sector, was tapped to serve as CCSD’s first supervisor of applications support services to develop software solutions for improving district operations.

Brandy Phillips, a past Teacher of the Year and current instructional lead strategist at Indian Knoll Elementary School, will serve as the assistant principal at Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy for next school year.

Jaime Stowe, a registered nurse with 18 years of clinical experience including as a staff nurse with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, will serve as one of the district’s lead nurses. She is filling the vacancy created by the retirement of longtime Lead Nurse Gwen Chambers.

The board also approved a new partnership agreement with ABM Industry Groups that provides a $1,000 scholarship each year to one outstanding graduating high school senior from each CCSD high school. The scholarship awards will begin with a presentation at the June 20 School Board meeting to Class of 2019 winners.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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