After the school district board of trustees rejected a tobacco enforcement grant that would have kept a school police officer on the campuses, officials from the California Department of Justice and City of Morgan Hill found a way to keep the funds local and directed toward reducing youth smoking and vaping, according to authorities.
The Morgan Hill Police Department last week accepted the $431,728 Tobacco Law Enforcement grant, funded through the DOJ and Proposition 56. The grant will be spent from 2021-2023, and will fund the salary and benefits for an MHPD community enforcement officer who is dedicated to anti-vaping and anti-tobacco outreach, as well as education and enforcement, according to MHPD.
The purpose of the grant is to reduce and prevent the use of tobacco products among youth, teens and the community at large.
Before the coronavirus pandemic mostly emptied local campuses, vaping in particular had become a worrisome problem at MHUSD schools. Morgan Hill Unified School District Superintendent Steve Betando recommended that the board of trustees approve the DOJ grant when it came up for approval at the March 2 board meeting. However, the board voted 4-2 to reject the grant.
If the MHUSD board had accepted it, the grant would have funded a school resource officer through MHPD who patrols district campuses and conducts student outreach. In fact, when the city submitted paperwork for the grant in August, MHPD’s intent was to continue the existing SRO program.
After the March 2 MHUSD meeting, city staff notified the DOJ it would have to decline the grant due to the board’s decision. However, DOJ approached MHPD with “a new and exciting anti-vaping/tobacco program,” says a press release from MHPD. “DOJ recognized the success of our current grant and wanted to build upon its success. Furthermore, Morgan Hill is the only city within Santa Clara County to receive this grant award,” says the press release.
The city and MHUSD last received a similar grant in 2018, which provided funds for an SRO for two years, as well as tobacco education, outreach, enforcement efforts and the local youth group Warriors Against Vaping E-cigarettes (WAVE).
MHUSD Board President Wendy Sullivan voted in the minority to accept the DOJ grant on March 2.
“Although the board of education chose not to accept the Tobacco Grant, as a district parent and community member, I am delighted that the Department of Justice has allowed the Morgan Hill Police Department to restructure the grant, enabling the program to continue its important work, albeit utilizing different strategies, in educating our youth about the dangers of tobacco and vape use,” Sullivan said in a statement.
MHUSD Trustee Heather Orosco also voted to accept the DOJ grant. Voting to reject the grant March 2 were Trustees John Horner, Adam Escoto, Ivan Rosales Montes and Mary Patterson. Trustee Carol Ann Gittens was absent during the vote.
Rosales Montes said he felt that some of the required “goals” to be funded by the DOJ grant would be handled better by health professionals than by a police officer. Specifically, these include conducting family and student group counseling sessions on tobacco and vaping; and facilitating workshops for faculty, staff, students and parents.
Now, the city’s community enforcement officer will take on similar responsibilities, in addition to training for local organizations, churches and clubs on tobacco-related issues within Morgan Hill, says the MHPD press release. The officer will also perform tobacco retailer compliance checks to ensure stores are not selling tobacco products to minors, and are following a city ordinance prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products in Morgan Hill.
Furthermore, the DOJ grant funds will pay for overtime hours for officers to conduct enforcement checks at parks, events and festivals, according to MHPD.
Betando noted that a 2020 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a “high rate of middle and high school students” reporting current use of two or more tobacco products. In a 2019 survey, 30 percent of high school students said they have tried two or more tobacco products.
“I am very relieved and thankful to the City of Morgan Hill for amending the grant and obtaining approval from the Department of Justice so the citizens of Morgan Hill can benefit from our police department’s work to curb the tobacco epidemic among our youth,” Betando said.