Eighteen students have already been issued vaping citations in these first few months of this school year. Over the summer, the school decided to implement a new policy on vaping and being caught with vapes on campus. From now on, if found with an e-cigarette, students will be issued a Class C citation as well as assigned DED, after-school detention from 4:30 to 8 p.m.
This approach seems a bit extreme. School detention and confiscation of the vape makes sense, but pursuing legal repercussions shows that the district is not messing around this year. Receiving a Class C citation would mean appearing in court before a judge, who would then fine you up to $500 and possibly send you to a court-ordered substance use class. However, a simple citation will most likely not effectively scare away nicotine-dependent students. According to the most recent Surgeon General’s report, a little over 10% of students in varrying high schools started using some tobacco product in just the eighth grade. At 13, according to a study from Yale University, the adolescent brain releases large quantities of dopamine, a chemical involved in various forms of addiction. The chance of becoming dependent on nicotine, before high school, is much higher than the adult brain. Students entering high school already dependent on vaping, will not likely go cold turkey for eight hours a day.
If a student is able to let go of their vaping device during school hours, it is likely that their ability to focus in school will drop. A nicotine study conducted on rodents in 2014, confirms that attention, learning, and response time is highly affected when the rodents were abruptly withdrawn from nicotine. Rat’s attention, when deprived of nicotine, was affected in either one of two ways. During the testing of different tasks, the rats would fail to attempt to complete a memory-based task or attempt to complete and fail. During learning and memory tests, the withdrawal was detrimental to exposed mice’s ability to complete various learning based tasks. The mice expressed an impaired ability to complete contextual and trace fear conditioning tests, a technique used to test learning and memory skills. Studies conducted on the mice and human withdrawals were concluded to parallel. Nicotine-dependent students who are deprived of their ability to focus in school in fear of facing legal repercussions will likely struggle in class.
I got a chance to speak with Assistant Principal Michael Norton about the new policy and his views around it, he explained to me that this was really the last stretch to control the school’s vaping issues. However, his main concern wasn’t students vaping at school or at home. Overall, he was most concerned for students’ safety and comfort in school. He told me about students and parents coming to him about being scared to go into the bathrooms during class because they knew someone would be in there, vaping. The same parents have reached out to him this year, praising the new policy for helping their child feel more comfortable at school. However, a comfort cushion for students uncomfortable with vaping is not reasoning enough to affect a student’s ability to succeed in class.
High school is a time of new experiences and facing situations that may make you uncomfortable. According to the same surgeon general’s report, almost 40% of young adults ages 18-24 vape regularly. In, at most four years, these students who are discomfited by vaping will be surrounded by students vaping in college or outside. Exposure to the vaping culture at this age, however unideal, is unavoidable. Shielding a few students will not only do little effect on the overall student body, but also ensure these students are not fully prepared for adult life, in which you will be faced with uncomfortable situations every day.
To sum it up, this policy may decrease vaping in the halls- but at what cost? Issuing citation after citation will not keep students from vaping outside of school, or better them in their future. If the goal is bettering students and setting them up for success, punishment is not the answer. Educate children at a young age of the effects of nicotine and provide resources for students who are already dependent on nicotine and interested in quitting. Opening our students and staff up to punishment-free discussions about vaping culture and its effects will contribute to a safer and more comfortable culture at our school. The success of the students should be the first priority in this school, not catching and writing them up.
Q&A with Assistant Principal Michael Norton
What was your initial reaction when you first saw or heard about vaping at DSHS?
“It would’ve been 2013 when we saw our first vape. It was ginormous and we really didn’t know what it was. We didn’t have a junior sheriff then, so we actually had to call the sheriff’s department. Since then, it’s escalated to the point where we had to escalate our disciplinary actions and really have seen a very little effect.”
So, what pushed this policy change?
“We talked about filing the class C paperwork with the JP’s office last year, and it’s really nothing new. In fact when I first started here, if we found a kid with cigarettes we would file then immediately. As law enforcement started getting more educated on the [citation] process, and we started getting more educated on the process, we looked and talked about [issuing citations] but thought ‘let’s tackles this on our own.’ And so it just continued to get worse, and at the end of last year we and the middle schools talked and realized it’s gotten pretty bad. So, we just had to draw the line in the sand try something else.”
What goal did the district have in mind for this new policy?
“Really more than anything over the last year or so, we’ve had kids saying ‘I don’t like going to the restroom because there’s always kids in there vaping and things like that. So, our ultimate goal is to provide you guys- the students- a safe and enjoyable learning environment. So, we have to look at the overall picture. Learning is important, but ultimately safety is number one.”
Written by Tessa Stigler, Opinion Editor