BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – In a pair of separate decisions Tuesday, the Brevard County School Board voted to move forward with litigation against the makers of the popular vaping product Juul and approved a new general counsel to replace outgoing board attorney Amy Envall.
Board members voted 4-1 to join a class action suit against Juul Labs, Inc., stating in a resolution student use of Juul e-cigarettes has caused "a substantial and ongoing interruption ... to its educational mission" and "the diversion of substantial resources" to combat vaping on Brevard campuses.
The move will not cost the school district anything up front and all fees will be paid out of any potential judgement or settlement, according to a legal services agreement signed by the board.
The suit is one of more than half a dozen across the U.S. filed against the vaping giant this month, each alleging the company marketed its products to teenagers and is responsible for a surge in e-cigarette use among students.
Juul Labs has repeatedly denied the claims and highlighted its own efforts to tamp down youth vaping, including suspending its social media accounts and voluntarily halting sale of most of its flavored products.
The board was courted last week by the Winter Park-based Maher Law Firm, one of two firms representing the School Board of Palm Beach County in the latest such suit.
“It’s not easy to enter into a lawsuit, and I take that very seriously,” Brevard board member Katye Campbell said. “Our mission is not to take down a private company. Our mission is to educate students and vaping is getting in the way of that.”
Campbell pointed to a recent spike in student referrals for possession of tobacco products, which according to district data increased more than five-fold between 2018 and 2019.
"That spike is directly related to when Juul entered the market with their campaigning toward youth," Campbell said. "It's a huge problem."
Tina Descovich was the only board member to vote against the suit, arguing the litigation was "outside the scope" of the district's responsibilities.
“We’re asked between state and federal governments to handle everything from student mental health to school security, on top of our traditional role of teaching kids to read and write,” Descovich said. “We have a lot on our plates.”
In an unrelated decision, the board on Tuesday approved Marion County attorney Paul Gibbs to replace Amy Envall as School Board general counsel.
Envall filed her resignation with the board in October after accepting a job as chief of legal services for Orange County Public Schools in Orlando.
Gibbs has served as general counsel for the Marion County School Board since 2017. Before that, he was an assistant county attorney in Seminole County and has previously consulted for the Broward County School Board and the Broward Sheriff's Office.
“He brings an enormous amount of experience and perspective, and he fits well with the team in terms of his outlook,” said board chairwoman Misty Belford.
Of the three finalists for the position, board members said it was a combination of Gibbs' school board experience and attitude that set him apart.
"We wanted someone who could step in and do Ms. Envall's job on Day 1," Descovich said. "Between that and his easy-going personality, he was good fit to get along with everyone."
Gibbs' first day will be Jan. 6, and he'll be paid an annual salary of $155,000. He will not be involved with running the suit against Juul.
Eric Rogers is the education watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY.
Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EricRogersFT.