Why isn’t the City of Park Ridge Following Best Practices When it Comes to Our Kids?

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source: iStock

On July 17, 2017, the Park Ridge City Council approved an ordinance to ticket kids caught with vapes $500. This fine is much steeper than those in many neighboring communities, and has been enforced almost entirely in our schools. Under this ordinance, first time offenders may be offered reduced fines (typically totaling $190 with court fees) and assigned to a “diversion and education program.”

Trouble is, leading anti-tobacco advocacy groups like Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, The Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, and the Truth Initiative oppose this approach because research shows it’s not effective.

Local experts have written to City Council to voice their concerns with the ordinance. Rebecca Levin, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in adolescent substance abuse treatment recently wrote:

“Vaping should not be a police issue. When we use policing to address a public health issue, we tend to criminalize the behavior instead of addressing the issue (people selling to underage youth) and reduce the chances of someone getting connected to the appropriate care.” Click here to read her email to City Council on page 5 of the June 22, 2020 meeting minutes.

Licensed professional counselor psychotherapist Janessa Nikols wrote:

“…imposing a solution without understanding the underlying problems result in misguided and counterproductive interventions that do not solve problems or teach skills. It is essential to consider the ramifications of the practices in place that criminalize behavior–when applied to students, does it ultimately increase cost and push out of the education environment and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems?” Click here to read her July 13, 2020 email to City Council.

It’s important to understand these experts do NOT suggest we just sit back and do nothing. Consequences for vaping in schools ARE necessary. We’re simply advocating for the schools to handle this in an appropriate way, not with police issuing tickets.

Be honest — did you ever screw up a little in school? Maybe had to serve a detention as a result? Now imagine you had to attend a formal hearing for that mistake. Some parents think this is a great way to teach kids a lesson, but research doesn’t back up that assumption. Science shows us there are better ways to address youth vaping.

It does not make sense to send our children to school to learn science but then fail to follow it ourselves–especially when it comes to making decisions that directly impact them while at school.

Despite what research shows, a majority of the members of City Council still appear to support the punitive measures as defined by this ordinance. In an effort to craft something better for the children of our community while working with the existing system, we’ve proposed an ordinance that features:

  • stronger fines for retailers
  • transferring responsibility to district administrators to address students vaping in school
  • a return to the original ordinance’s $100 fine for minors vaping in other public places

We would prefer no financial penalties for underage Purchase, Use, and Possession (PUP), but as collaborative partners, we understand compromise is often the best approach. A redlined version of the ordinance has been submitted to the City for attorneys and members of City Council to review, and we hope the suggestions will come up for discussion during a future Public Safety meeting. (Date: TBD. Check back for updates.)

Would you like a deeper understanding of the issue, data, and original “solution”? Click here for the easy-to-read slide deck. Pages 7–8 cover one of my biggest issues with the implementation of the program.

Want to help?

Email City Council and let them know you believe it’s important to base policies on current science and expert guidance, not just anecdotes and impressions. If you like the compromise suggestion we’ve made, let them know that too.

(mjoyce@parkridge.us; mmazzuca@parkridge.us; cmelidosian@parkridge.us; rshubert@parkridge.us; gwilkening@parkridge.us; mhartwig@parkridge.us; jmoran@parkridge.us; mmaloney@parkridge.us)

On November 9, 2020 at 7 pm, WATCH the discussion live: https://www.parkridge.us/events/default.aspx

Here are some misconceptions and questions we’ve encountered during our conversations with community members and city officials…

…didn’t school administrators ask for the police’s help? There’s no evidence of that. D207 Superintendent Dr. Ken Wallace confirmed on a video chat with me he did not ask for this ordinance, nor was he ever consulted during the process. No representative from D207 administration was present during the City Council meetings when this was discussed or voted on. Council meeting video (1:16:00) and minutes (pages 4–5) show Officer Raitano (Maine South School Resource Officer), Teri Collins, and Chief Kaminski created this program with a city attorney.

They mentioned the schools wanted police intervention––but it’s not clear where that directive came from––and it’s not consistent with Dr. Wallace’s recent assurances to the community that the district doesn’t use police / school resource officers for student discipline. (Click here to watch this comment at 33:50)

…hasn’t it been effective so far? Some tout the low number of repeat offenders as evidence that it’s working, but researchers don’t use that as a valid metric of success for this kind of ordinance. All it shows is that kids are getting better at hiding it. There’s no evidence of ticketing trending down over the time the ordinance was in effect in the schools (August 2017–February 2020), and no data to indicate that students are vaping less overall.

…doesn’t this keep it off a kid’s record? Part of the justification for passing the ordinance was that it would prevent kids from being issued a misdemeanor for violating state law. It was a way to keep it “off their record.” The reasoning might makes sense if youth possession was still against the law in Illinois, but as it’s no longer illegal in the state of Illinois, it doesn’t. The state struck that law because legislators chose to follow science, evidence, and best practices — state law focuses on punishing the retailers who sell to our kids, not the kids themselves through legal means.

…isn’t this based on misleading data? I heard this all grew out of unfair accusations against the police. Untrue. The advocates working on a better approach to addressing vaping in schools have not accused the police or administrators of being racist. The data shared is accurate. We’ve shared the facts, and those facts highlight the uneven enforcement of the vaping ordinance in different schools. The schools with higher rates of ticketing are the schools with less advantaged populations. This is a well-documented finding nationwide. It is a systemic issue, not a charge of “racism.”

School admin work with the school resource officer to determine if a $500 citation should be issued. But despite the fact that Maine East students comprise only 44% of the high school students in Park Ridge, they’re getting 62% of the citations. Do Maine East students vape more? No, they don’t. 9% of them vape daily. That’s HALF the 18% of Maine South students that vape daily. School admin do not dispute those stats or question the methodology.

A citizen who was shocked by the data created an infographic to circulate on social media. This infographic also highlights the socioeconomic and racial disparity between the two schools, and created instantaneous awareness of the problem. The graphic is at the bottom of this article for your reference.

This is the slide that prompted the infographic:

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FACTS

The defensive reaction some administrators and Council members have shown to this fact-based slide (and the infographic) is simply not necessary. Our district confronts the same systemic issues all districts do. We need to acknowledge that reality and work together to improve outcomes for all students.

Okay, but I heard…

…Maine East is getting more tickets because sensors were installed in their restrooms but not at Maine South….so when Maine South installs sensors the problem will be solved. Nope, sensors are not the solution. Best practices are. Why? Because science. See pages 9–12. And think about it: If sensors WERE the answer, wouldn’t that mean Maine East should have LESS tickets?

…that City Council had the data on uneven enforcement last year. Yes, that’s true. Dr. Pennington presented it to City Council on June 10, 2019; you can watch it here at 00:21:24. The Mayor takes the data directly from her when she’s finished.

I share this because I believe it’s vital we as a community take the time to understand how systemic issues are created and remain in motion, even when citizens surface the problems via proper channels. City Council and staff present at the meeting had the info, but no one ever looked into it, so the uneven enforcement continued for another school year. It’s their ordinance, and therefore their responsibility, but instead of taking ownership of the problem, they ignored it.

This is a classic case of a systemic problem. We need to encourage decision makers to confront embarrassing information head-on and make things better.

….Des Plaines stopped referring to the MCYAF diversion program. This is what the City of Des Plaines told Dr. Pennington this summer (2020). That based on the concerns she shared with both Des Plaines and Park Ridge during the summer of 2019, (D207 serves both those towns), Des Plaines stopped referring kids caught with vapes to MCYAF.

the D207 Superintendent agreed to stop citations in schools until an appropriate solution could be created and adopted. Yep, he did. So let’s ratchet up these fines for retailers who sell to minors and get the $500 fines for kids off the books. Now is the time to make meaningful change and stop kicking the can and dodging / shifting responsibility. This can be a collaborative effort to strengthen policies at both the City and School District level.

…1st Ward Alderman Moran said he’s been against this ordinance since the very beginning. Well, his own words contradict that. During the August 7, 2017 meeting at 42:40, he says, “I’m not against the ordinance itself.”

Mistakes were made in how this ordinance was created and implemented, BUT the voting members of City Council have a chance to improve the situation. Don’t be distracted by drama and finger-pointing, just hold them to the facts. Encourage your Alderperson to use them when the ordinance comes up for discussion during the November 9, 2020 Public Safety meeting.

WATCH the discussion live at 7 PM: https://www.parkridge.us/events/default.aspx

The infographic that caught attention on social media and upset some at D207 and the City is posted below. What’s causing the unequal policing? We’d never know the answer without first asking the question. (Since this graphic was created, it appears there may be one––sensors in one school, but not the other. More evaluation is needed.)

The facts are correct.

There is no claim of racism.

There is no blaming of officers.

Issuance of citations IS “policing.” It HAS BEEN unequal.

One population is more affluent and advantaged than the other.

Let’s stop and look at the WHYs behind this and address them.

ALL of them.

That’s all we’ve been asking.

I’ll end with one final note…

Elected officials and community members alike often lament the way local issues blow up on Facebook. I can empathize with that. But the question we as a community need to ask is: Why does something have to blow up on Facebook to get appropriate attention and action? As stated above, the city was given the disparity data, as well as the current science / research on effective policy in June 2019.

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Advocate for women, children, and better government.

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