Catawba County Schools: Sticking to the Plan
The first time a 100% tobacco-free schools (TFS) policy proposal went to the Catawba County school board in March 2002, it was rejected by a vote of 5 to 2. But advocates for the policy didn’t give up. They continued to work hard towards becoming 100% TFS and became a great example of how the policy adoption toolkit for Tobacco Free Schools helps advocates achieve success.
Shortly after the first attempt, the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund provided grant funding to the “Teen Task Force” in Catawba County Schools in 2003. The goal of the task force was to help all three school districts in the county (Catawba County Schools, Newton-Conover City Schools and Hickory City Schools) become 100% tobacco free.
Candice Justice, who works for the Catawba County Health Department and oversees the Health and Wellness Trust Fund (“HWTF”)grant, said she followed the adoption steps suggested by the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch which provides assistance to HWTF grantees. Her first step, which was suggested by the policy adoption toolkit, was to gather allies and form a tobacco free task force.
“The task force included a member of the Catawba County school board and all of the Safe and Drug Free School Coordinators,” Justice said. “We met on a monthly basis and decided when it was best to approach the school board.”
Justice said task force members knew students would be the strongest voices to speak in front of the school board. So she worked with ?Y (short for Question Why) West to train youth advocates on the harmful effects of smoking and the benefits of a 100% TFS policy.
“We had a 4 or 5 hour training and the ?Y staffers educated everyone about the extensive background and issues surrounding TFS, not just the health standpoint,” Justice said. “We set up a mock school board and students researched individual issues. The kids were already really passionate about the issue.”
Justice also administered an informal survey asking Catawba County high school students’ opinions about the tobacco free policy. Her survey showed that 80 percent of high school students supported their tobacco free schools.
“It was helpful to show that a majority of students supported the policy at the meeting,” Justice said.
TFS advocates also went to local newspapers for help. Advocates wrote letters to the editor in support of the 100% TFS policy and the editorial page also took a public stance supporting the policy. Justice said all the support and preparation made the policy adoption process go smoothly when it reached the school board.
“We had no backlash to the policy in the month between the first reading and the second reading,” she said. The board approved the TFS policy with a 5-1 vote in May 2004.
Catawba County’s new policy joined Hickory City Schools already tobacco free school environment, so advocates turned to the only remaining district in the county without a gold standard policy.
“Newton-Conover schools were already making (tobacco free) announcements at their ballgames even before they had a policy,” Justice said. “The legwork we did in Catawba paid off oodles for Newton-Conover.” Newton-Conover city schools went tobacco free effective in January 2005.
Justice and other 100% TFS supporters didn’t stop with policy adoption. They had cessation information packets ready for distribution before the policy was passed and helped with policy communication after the policy was made official.
“We pretty much followed the plan,” Justice said. And it worked.