(WJHL) – School systems across the region are taking an all hands on deck approach to the growing problem of vaping. They’re changing policies, involving the court system and doing all they can to educate school staff, parents and most of all students about the dangers of an easy-to-hide practice.
“It’s very easy to hide, very easy to use just in the palm of your hand,” said Shelly Smith, principal at Chuckey-Doak High School in Greene County, where 14 students have been caught and disciplined for vaping so far this year.
“The first offense is two days in-school (suspension),” Smith said. “That includes a parent contract that talks about the dangers of vaping and the rules at school.” Students who get caught a second time at Chuckey-Doak face a three-day out of school suspension.
Tough consequences, evolving policies
Systems are also involving the courts. In Bristol, Tenn., offending students are cited into court. In Johnson City, Tenn., Superintendent Steve Barnett said the system has updated its policy, adding language about vaping to its non-smoking rules. The school board made that change official at its Nov. 4 meeting.
Repeat offenders in Johnson City are referred to Sgt. Lorrie Goff and her fellow school resource officers from the city’s police department.
“We’ve made six arrests,” Goff said of Johnson City, where a total of 24 incidents have occurred so far this school year – 23 at Science Hill High School and one at Liberty Bell Middle. “That means people have already been through the system one time in the schools and they didn’t get the message the first time.”
According to Greeneville City School superintendent Steve Starnes, a policy updated in August to include vaping and vaping products calls for a citation to Greene County Juvenile Court on a first offense, along with the possibility of detention or other “low-level” school discipline. Repeat offenses net additional citations and escalated school discipline measures.
In Virginia, systems like Norton are enlisting the help of the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA), adopting the VSBA’s recommended policy on nicotine vapor products. The system has also updated no smoking signage at its schools to incorporate vaping. Norton is now in the process of developing regulations to help enforce the policy.
Education is key, and not just for students
“Vaping is a growing concern that is on our radar and we are taking proactive steps to offer programs about the dangers of vaping beginning with our middle school students,” Norton Superintendent Gina Wohlford said. Wohlford said that work will include a focus on parents taking an active role in prevention.
Students often don’t realize how addictive and dangerous vaping is, Johnson City’s Barnett said. “We hear from students that they started vaping because they thought it was a safe alternative to smoking and initially at least, they liked the way it made them feel,” he said.
Chris Bogart is principal at Unicoi County High School, where 11 documented incidents have occurred this year. He said parents are critical to helping move the needle. “Kids are deep into this and it is causing real problems,” Bogart said. “They are so hard to catch, and companies are playing to the students’ desires to hide the devices from us. We’re fighting the device companies and the kids on this. We need the parents’ help.”
Chuckey-Doak’s Smith worries about students who aren’t persuaded to quit – or not to start – by the school systems’ multi-pronged approach. “
“When a teenager or young person vapes, those chemicals not only affect not only the lungs and the breathing issues we see, but it affects brain development. It affects things that are way beyond what we can see immediately.”