Syracuse City School District (SCSD) Obsevational Study

In the spring of 2019, The Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion partnered with Transforming Communities Initiative (TCI) to conduct an observational study of all Syracuse City School District properties, including all schools, the administrative building, and the bus garage. The goal of this study was to assess placement, visibility, and messaging of no smoking signage and evidence of tobacco and other substance use across all school district properties. All locations were visited by trained staff twice between March 28 and April 30. Time slots for visits were selected based on each school’s schedule for morning student drop-off, lunch, or afternoon student pick-up.

Tobacco-Free Signage

Each school was assessed for evidence of “Tobacco Free School” signage at several locations, the main entrance to school grounds, the main entrance to the school building, loading docks, bus loading/unloading zone, and parking lots. Additional outside locations such playgrounds, athletic fields, and side and back entrances were included in the study and assessed for signage as applicable. Observers were instructed to note whether a sign existed at each location and if so, whether the sign indicated that a) both tobacco use and vaping were not allowed or b) only tobacco use was not allowed.

Overall, only two of the signs at all 36 school locations indicated that both tobacco use and vaping were not allowed on school property.

Evidence of Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drug Use on School Property

We observed parking lots, school building entrances/exits, and other outside areas (playgrounds, athletic fields, bus loading zones, and other indicated areas) for evidence of smoking, alcohol, and drug use on school property. For each location, we looked for evidence of each of the following:

  • Observed students smoking
  • Observed adults smoking
  • Smelled tobacco or vaping smoke
  • Observed butts, matches, lighters, and/or ashes
  • Observed students using drugs
  • Observed adults using drugs
  • Smelled marijuana
  • Observed drug paraphernalia or remnants
  • Observed students drinking alcohol
  • Observed adults drinking alcohol
  • Observed alcohol bottles/cans

The average number of observed incidences for all Syracuse City School District locations was 2.5. The most common incidents were:

  • Evidence of butts, matches, lighters, and/or ashes in/around any parking lot
  • Evidence of butts, matches, lighters, and/or ashes at any entrance to school building
  • Evidence of tobacco or vaping smoke around any outside location
  • Evidence of butts, lighters, matches, ashes, etc. around any outside location
  • Evidence of alcohol bottles/cans around any outside location

Additionally, observers noted that evidence of smoking at many schools was congregated near construction sites. This may mean that construction workers are smoking while on site. Active construction at several school locations also meant that many of the areas we needed to observe were inaccessible. This may mean that we missed the placement of non-smoking signs and/or evidence of smoking, alcohol, or drug use at many outside locations.


Based on our findings, we suggested the following:

  1. With the support of TCI, all signage at each school location should be replaced to reflect the restriction of tobacco and vaping on school property. The colors and imagery of each sign should be updated to be brighter and more visible from further distances.
  2. Signs should be placed at each observed location, including but not limited to: all entrances and exits, parking lots, playgrounds, bus loading zones, loading docks, and athletic fields.
  3. School leaders should remind faculty, staff, and family members that school campuses are a smoke free zone. While rare, observers did encounter adults smoking on school premises.
  4. School leaders should remind construction crews working on school sites that smoking is not permitted at any school location

Contact Information

If you have questions or concerns related to the findings of this assessment, please contact Alexandra Punch, Associate Director of the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at Syracuse University at or 315-443-9343.