EW plans to crack down on vaping and e-cigarettes on campus

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

Lindsay Fox from Newport beach, United States [CC BY 2.0]

If your East Washington student is caught with e-cigarette, vaping or tobacco paraphernalia, or the act of vaping or using any tobacco product on school grounds, they might find themselves with more than a severe talking-to.

At their Sept. 24 board meeting, the East Washington school board was informed of a measure that would allow the school resource officer, Gary Pennington, to issue legal citations along with the school consequences for being caught with vaping, e-cigarette and/or tobacco paraphernalia.

“Vaping, as [High School Principal] Darin [Farris] and [Middle School Principal] Amber [Sater] will tell you, [Elementary Principal] Stacy [Richardson] not quite yet, but we’re hoping to keep it from becoming an issue in the elementary, but vaping is a big problem,” said Superintendent Dennis Stockdale. “Everything you try to do — they’re sneaky. They come in all different shapes and sizes. We wanted to look at something to give us some teeth to help get to the root of the problem.”

Stockdale said the Pennington organized a meeting between the school and the prosecutor and probation offices to discuss citing students for vaping. He said the rules for vaping would follow the same for tobacco use on campus.

“One thing we are working on right now is providing some sort of education process for them to do, just like our drug testing, so if they do some sort of curriculum and coursework, maybe whatever the school side of the discipline is could be reduced,” said Stockdale. “The citation would stay in force. We’ve got to get a handle on this.”

He said he spoke with a fellow superintendent who told him their school was catching students as young as fourth grade vaping or with vaping materials at school.

“If you look at the news, there’s someone in the hospital,” he said. “It’s almost a health crisis.”

As of Friday, Sept. 27, the CDC reported there were 805 lung injury cases from 46 states and one US territory caused by vaping. So far, vaping has been responsible for 12 deaths in 10 states, including Indiana. Nearly 70% of patients are male and more than 60% of them are between 18 and 34; 16% are younger than 18, meaning minors used fake IDs or bought them from someone else who purchased a vape pen and materials legally and sold them.

The CDC recommends not using e-cigarettes or vape pens, but if you choose to continue, refrain from buying them off the street as there is no way to determine the safety of the cartridge contents and the e-cigarettes and cartridges shouldn’t be modified in any way. Should you begin to experience a cough, shortness of breath or chest pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea or fatigue, fevor or abdominal pain, contact a health provider immediately. The CDC reports some patients’ symptoms developed over a few days and some took several weeks.

A school messenger notice went out that evening, informing parents of the new policy.

“I’m not sure how law enforcement notifies parents,” said Stockdale. “We’re going to run parrallel with them. We’re not citing. We’ve got to get help. We’ve got to do something. What we’re doing now is not working — I’m talking about society and schools in general.”

Board member Theresa Gottbrath suggested proactive measures like assemblies.

“I’ve talked with administrators and they have all been working to get out in front of this,” said Stockdale.

“As of yesterday, there is a free assembly from the Washington County Tobacco Coalition,” said Farris. “Rhonda Mills is our representative and she’s really been notifying us of when this free assembly becomes available and it became available yesterday. She emailed all of us today and said all three county schools have registered. It will be, I think, in November and we’re trying to do high school and middle school together … I’ve heard good reviews about this particular assembly. If we need others, we’ll do whatever we need to do.”

“We’re looking at some wording with our discipline and that kind of stuff,” said Sater. “We’re working to get some educational things in there. ‘This is the consequence; however, if you participate in vape education, your consequence will be lessened,’ something like that. There are some free curriculums out there. Our new nurse, Sasha Pearce, has some resources and she’s planning on actually going to homerooms and talking to kids and do some smaller-group and one-on-one stuff.”

Farris said he’s tried to spread the word to students about this upcoming change, so the fact they’ll be cited if they’re caught shouldn’t be a surprise. He said he’s talked to staff and informed them to talk to students as well. He said 20 minutes from the time they were talking about it in the meeting, the school messenger meeting was scheduled to go out.

“We’re changing our approach,” said Stockdale. “We’ve got to. It’s that bad. Kids are getting to the point where they’ll do it in front of you. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, there’s some where you might think someone just put on some cologne.”

“I think it’s gotten to the point where you don’t know what chemical or product is in that device,” said Farris. “They’re putting THC [tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis] products in there now.”

Stockdale added students will sometimes sell hits off of their vaping devices and Sater said there isn’t always a way for students to know what’s in the vape pen they’re using. Reports are coming out showing some unregulated, bottleg cartridges are testing positive for pesticides, including myclobutanil, a fungicide that can transform into hydrogen cyanide when burned, announced an NBC News report published Friday.

The paraphernalia being used to vape is changing rapidly. Sater said she’d seen devices that look like watches. Farris said he’d received an email warning of a hoodie advertised with a tube students could vape through hidden in the drawstring.

“It’s a day-to-day education sometimes,” said Farris. “It’s getting more and more tricky every day.”

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