December 3, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

School districts suing Juul can’t document vaping incidents

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More Kansas school districts are suing vaping manufacturers Juul, but some can’t document the number of vaping incidents that occurred and others won’t respond to The Sentinel’s request for that information.

In early October, the Olathe school district filed a lawsuit against JUUL, the largest manufacturer of vaping products in the United States. In the 83-page complaint filed by attorney Kirk Goza from Goza & Honnold on behalf of the USD 233, the school district cites the potential for losing funding, saying “Student use of JUUL products on school grounds has resulted in increased student suspensions and absences. Because school funding is often related to the number of students enrolled and present, suspensions and absences may decrease the amount of funding a school receives.”

Yet, the complaint does not say how many students are caught vaping by school officials and administrators.  Cody Kennedy, the Communications and Media Manager with the Olathe School District says vaping infractions are not as easy to track.

“What’s unique and I can speak for our district is that it is classified as tobacco. So when it’s documented it goes down as a tobacco infraction, so when you pull the data you really have to start sifting through to see.”

When a student is caught with tobacco, whether cigarettes, chewing tobacco or vaping, the infractions are all logged as tobacco with attached notes explaining the type of tobacco used. Kennedy says the school district method of keeping track of tobacco is in line with requirements from the state board of education.

The Goddard school district (USD 265) in Sedgwick County announced its intent to sue Juul in September. Following the announcement, The Sentinel asked the district how many students were caught and disciplined for vaping at school. When an answer wasn’t provided, we filed an Open Records Request to get the data but the district said it would cost $1,500 to get their response. Dane Baxa, Director of Community Relations for USD 265, responded to our request for justification of the cost.

“We’re going to have 13 principals review and assemble all vaping-related instances, technology staff to assemble the information, an assistant superintendent to review the information to redact confidential information, and our attorney to review to make sure we are complying with state and federal regulations,” said Baxa.

Baxa’s response indicates the district hasn’t already compiled the data, even after holding a press conference announcing a lawsuit saying vaping has harmed the districts.

According to U.S. District Court Records, USD 333 in Concordia in Cloud County and USD 232 De Soto in Johnson County have also filed suit against JUUL.  Last week two more Johnson County districts – Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley – announced they are joining lawsuits against Juul. The Sentinel reached out to all the school districts who have filed lawsuits, or signaled intentions to do so, to find out how may vaping infractions there have been. Only Shawnee Mission responded to our request. David Smith, the Chief Communications Officer for the Shawnee Mission School District, did not know the vaping number of vaping incidents but committed to tracking them down.

Dale Dennis, Deputy Commissioner at the Kansas State Department of Education of Fiscal and Administrative Services admits the number of vaping incidents is not known.

“I don’t know anyone that knows how much vaping is going on,” says Dennis.

The Department of Education is part of a public-private multi-agency task force that meets monthly in Topeka. The goal is to come up with potential policy and legislative changes in the state regarding vaping. But this begs the questions, how is the task force able to study a topic if no one can provide data on how many students are getting caught by school officials at school?

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