Law Office of Michelle Ball discipline,drugs,expulsion,nicotine,suspension Possession of Nicotine or Tobacco As Basis For School Discipline

Possession of Nicotine or Tobacco As Basis For School Discipline


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Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Talk to many in our culture today about nicotine products and the public schools and you may hear:  “So what, the kid’s smoking, isn’t that something every teen does?”  Not really, and if they do, it should not be at school or involving school.  Tobacco or similar products cannot be stashed for a friend, thrown in a backpack to use later, chewed, smoked, or otherwise used at school, at school events, going to or coming from school, etc.  If they are, and the student is caught, the student can be suspended or even expelled.

Per the California Education Code, which outlines all bases for suspension and expulsion of students, one basis for discipline is:

A pupil shall not be suspended from school or recommended for expulsion, unless the superintendent of the school district or the principal of the school in which the pupil is enrolled determines that the pupil has…

(h) Possessed or used tobacco, or products containing tobacco or nicotine products, including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, miniature cigars, clove cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, snuff, chew packets, and betel*. [Education Code section 48900(h)]

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This code also encompasses e-cigarettes and vape pens, and all manner of things which may fit under the “nicotine” or nicotine-like umbrella.  Note the code states that the list is not exclusive “including, but not limited to…” which means it is a wide-open code and will allow a school suspension for many products not listed.

The California legislature allows students to be removed from school and their records tarnished for simple possession or use of nicotine-type products.  The kid in the back of a class with that bottle full of brown liquid (spit from chew products) can be in serious trouble.  Or that kid with that “cool” vape pen could have his/her college entrance chances diminished if a suspension issues.  

If your child is up for suspension or expulsion for having a clove cigarette, some chew, or a vape pen, remember that alternatives to suspension should be attempted first if the offense is non-dangerous and is their first of the year (see Ed Code 48900.5).  

Have you checked your kids’ backpack or pockets today to ensure none of these prohibited items are lurking in there?  If not, the next person who may tell you they are, could be the school Principal.

* Betel: “an Asian plant that has leaves and red nuts that act as a drug when chewed” [per the Cambridge Dictionary