PORTLAND — The School Board began updating its policies Jan. 20 by holding first readings of proposed new rules on service animals and tobacco use in schools.
The policies are scheduled to be voted on at the Feb. 3 meeting.
The policy prohibiting tobacco use now includes electronic cigarettes and electronic hookahs, School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson said, to reflect types of smoking that she said “you see society turning to.”
She said there was not a sense of growing use of either of these products in schools, but the board is “updating policies to reflect current times,” and to make sure all forms of tobacco use by students and faculty are banned in the schools.
Thompson said tobacco use first came to the board’s attention eight months ago, when Deering High School students and the Health Center Leadership of Portland gave a presentation to the board, with suggested policy changes and consequences for violations.
Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk said the updated policy on tobacco use is the result of a national study that found increasing teen use of electronic cigarettes and hookahs.
At the time of the study, he said, Maine was one of 10 states that did not prohibit the sale to minors of electronic nicotine delivery systems. He said as the delivery system for nicotine changes, it’s important that the board have a policy prohibiting minors from possessing, selling and distributing the products.
Caulk added while he hadn’t seen an uptick in the use of these products in the schools, the national trend is an increase in the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems by teenagers.
“The fact that this number is up among teens from survey data is alarming,” he said. “We want our students to be healthy and make good choices.”
Thompson said there has been no policy on service animals in schools, but the board recognized the need to be prepared because the district serves “such a diverse group of students.”
Sharon Pray, the district’s director of student support services, said under the proposed policy only qualified students with documented disabilities can use a service animal, and the animal must be certified by the state.
Caulk said both policies are “proactive” and “forward thinking.”
“As you look at our community and any community, you can anticipate that requests may come forward, and we want to make sure we have a policy to address that need,” he said.