Photo by Gavin Mullin
Joining the Olathe, DeSoto, Goddard, Concordia and Shawnee Mission school districts, Blue Valley has decided to sue JUUL.
The Blue Valley school district is being represented by the Goza & Honnold law firm, located in Overland Park, Kan.
Addressing Blue Valley staff members in an email, Superintendent Todd White said this issue, regarding JUUL, is not just affecting Blue Valley students, but that it is negatively impacting the entire nation.
White expressed his concern, saying how he has never seen anything so devastating and destructive to the health of students in his entire teaching career.
“In my 35 years in education, I’ve never seen anything that has been so rapid and devastating to the health and well-being of students as vaping,” White said.
White later said in an interview with BVNW news that although he has seen students addicted to certain drugs or stimulants in the past, he has never seen such a sudden impact on student health as vaping.
“The piece about [JUUL] being so devastating is because of the rapid onset of the health impacts from it,” White said. “I have never seen anything that has gone from the novelty of the use of something to the point where students are self-reporting their addictions.”
In terms of health impact, White said no one in Blue Valley has died from vaping, but there have been documented cases of other problems.
“We are starting to see Popcorn Lung and Influenza, things that we think of as being more geriatric in nature, now actually appearing in people prior to their 20s,” White said.
Despite his concern for the health of students within the Blue Valley School District, White was initially hesitant to agree to the lawsuit, saying a main concern of his was using taxpayer money to fund the lawsuit.
“I am not one to easily suggest taxpayer dollars should be utilized in lawsuits,” White said. “I think taxpayer dollars should be spent on educating students.”
However, after learning about the negative impact that JUUL has had on the Blue Valley School District, as well as the fact that no taxpayer money will be utilized in this lawsuit, White decided to move forward with suing JUUL.
“But once I came to an understanding about what JUUL had done and the on-going impact that [JUUL] is having in our schools, I came to the realization that we needed to [sue JUUL],” White said.
White said no money from the district will ever be put into this lawsuit, that this lawsuit is on a contingency fee, meaning if Blue Valley reaches a settlement with JUUL, the lawyers will take a portion of the overall settlement.
“There are no costs associated with this from the district, nor will there ever be, the results of the ongoing negotiations with JUUL and their attorneys and the court will be determination of how much [the settlement ends up being],” White said.
Some may say Blue Valley joined the lawsuit against JUUL somewhat late, however, White said that was not the case.
“The difference in timing was just individual differences and districts moving it through their board meetings and getting it on their agendas,” White said. “We were all in the same space, the approvals just came out at different times.”
In addition to suing JUUL, White said Blue Valley has taken other measures to help prevent students from vaping.
“We have tried to have an education program, there is a statewide awareness campaign that we are participating in and we have held several podcasts describing the dangers of [vaping],” White said.
An additional way the Blue Valley School District has tried to prevent students from vaping is by changing their code of conduct last spring, updating JUUL from an “e-cigarette” to “a drug of abuse”.
According to BVNW student resource officer, Anthony Garcia, if students are caught with a JUUL on school campus and it is their first offensive, there are several disciplinary measures put into place.
On the law enforcement side, students will be issued a citation through city court, [students] could also potentially get a citation for smoking in a public building and then obviously be given a court date,” Garcia said.
As far school punishments go, Garcia said first time offenders will be given a 5 day suspension, which they can decrease to a 3 day suspension by completing the online education program, aspire. If students are caught a second time, they could potentially be taken to an expulsion hearing.
Although Garcia said somewhere between 25-50 students have been caught vaping since the start of the 2019 school year, he does note that since these new disciplinary measures have been put into place, the overall number of students vaping on school campus has substantially decreased.
In terms of the actual lawsuit, it is classified as a multidistrict litigation lawsuit, where each individual client is treated uniquely. So, although multiple schools have joined together, each school’s settlement will be determined uniquely.
“[This lawsuit] is looking at how JUUL affected our students, our teachers’ ability to teach and our administrators’ ability to carry on with functions other than those relating to JUUL,” White said.
As for what is to be done with the potential monetary earnings from the lawsuit, White said it should go to those within the Blue Valley community who have been affected by JUUL, as well as to programs educating people about the dangers of JUUL.
“Any sort of restitution or money [from the lawsuit] should go into education and health care for the people that have been affected by [JUUL],” White said.
As for a final reason for entering this lawsuit, White said the Blue Valley School District intends to call out JUUL’s wrong doing and make it so no other company down the road will be able to use the same tactics as JUUL.
“JUUL created this problem, so they need to own up to it and take responsibility,” White said.
This story was originally published on The Express and Husky Headlines on November 1, 2019.