By Marianne Curtis
The Hanover School Division has removed a designated smoking area from the grounds of the region’s largest high school after controversy was raised over it’s initial installation.
In a statement issued by the Hanover School Division, the board says that “after consultation with the Department of Education, Hanover School Division has dismantled the designated smoking area on the Steinbach Regional High School grounds in preparation for semester 2.
“The Hanover School Division and the SRSS remain strongly committed to do what we can to ensure the safety and well-being of all of our students and to remain responsible to our community,” says the statement.
The Hanover School Division and the SRSS decided to install the designated smoking area for students in an effort to work with both smokers and area neighbours, explained principal Luis Reis. He says that the students themselves built the structure.
“It was a two sided Plexiglass barrier so that students have to remain in the specific area,” Reis explained. “We are very proud of the project – the students made the barrier and we very proud of the job they did.”
While the school designated an smoking area on school grounds, Reis says that their intention was never to promote smoking.
“We are not promoting smoking,” stated Reis. “The division is committed to smoking cessation and we are looking at reducing the smoking in students but we are also trying to work with our neighbours on this.”
Initially the students were permitted to smoke in front of the school next toMackenzie Avenuebut complaints from neighbours and the recent installation of several portables in front of the school forced the board to look at another solution. Even the RCMP supported the move, sighting the old site as a safety and public nuisance issue.
RCMP Constable Kevin Wynn felt the new smoking area was a good move from his perspective. He says that over the years, the detachment has had many complaints of trespassing and littering from residents alongMackenzie Avenue.
“There is no law against students smoking or possessing tobacco,” explained Wynn. “We had a large group of students engaged in an activity near a busy roadway – safety of the students is paramount. It wasn’t a huge problem but there were concerns from the public.”
There have also been concerns raised about the street side location of the smoking student being used to exchange drugs.
“Having the students congregate near the streets does make it convenient for things like that to happen such as different transactions that might be made during school hours,” Wynn confirmed.
Initially the Hanover School Division stood by their decision to support the smoking area, however after meeting with the province the decision was made to remove it. The Department of Education has an agreement with school divisions to ban smoking on school grounds since 2008. However, it is not legally binding and contains no penalty clause for schools that disregard it.