Five DACs, seven offenders, five bags of confiscated paraphernalia.
This past school year has seen a flurry of vaping-related violations at the Upper Campus, mirroring a nationwide surge in use of these materials among high school-aged teenagers.
Only two months into the school year, two OVS students were expelled for vaping offenses. Those dismissals would set the tone for what would become a long year of discipline and consequences related to on-campus use of vaping devices, which could contain anything from nicotine to the active ingredients of marijuana.
In some circles, increased usage of those materials is raising concern that vaping — which also includes the more popular and more potent Juuling — could be introducing a new generation to nicotine, reversing years of steady decline in the number of teens taking up cigarette smoking.
More worrisome are concerns among educators and health professionals that many young people experimenting with vaping and Juuling might not fully understand the dangers of their actions, as research continues to reveal new information about the addictive power of vaping devices.
So if those numbers keep increasing, are the methods the school is currently implementing an effective method of addressing this troubling health issue?
Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County’s public health officer, believes that a system aimed more at helping students rather than punishing them might be more effective in preventing nicotine use.
“If society is coming to accept that opiate use should be treated as a medical issue rather than a crime, then surely we should be able to treat tobacco addiction as a medical issue and not discipline those that are using tobacco,” Dr. Levin said.
Typically, when students are caught vaping on campus they receive a contract that lays out the consequences for their actions and guidelines for future behavior. If a contract is violated, a student may have to go through a process known as a DAC (Disciplinary Advisory Committee) with a council of students and faculty who recommend to the Head of School what the next consequence should be. The Head of School has the final say in all disciplinary matters.
However, school leaders say through the disciplinary process there are attempts, not always apparent to the student body, to help students struggling with these and other health-related issues.
For example, contracts for first time offenders have in them requirements for students to research and work on public service projects that explore the relationship between risk-taking behaviors and self-esteem. They also participate in a 30-day reflective journaling exercise in which they explore a topic directed at building self esteem, boosting personal growth and improving decision making.
Moreover, in the case of vaping and other drug use, students are always asked what compelled them to violate the rules and whether they feel they have an addiction or control over the substance they used.
“Overwhelmingly, people tell us [they violated vaping rules] to be cool,” said Assistant Head of School Crystal Davis, who is in charge of disciplinary matters at the Upper Campus. “But we make clear to students at that point that, if they feel like they are addicted, that they’re not able to control their use of this substance, we will make our medical services, our health center, available to them.”
In some cases, Ms. Davis said the school could even recommend to students and their families that they take medical leave to deal with their health issues.
“We can’t say you have to take medical leave,” Ms. Davis said. “But when we talk to parents, we can say your daughter or your son is telling us they have this problem that they don’t have control over, and this problem is going to lead them into the crosshairs of further disciplinary action. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we could address this medical issue first?”
OVS is not alone in having to respond to this alarming trend.
A recent blogpost by Donna Orem, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, characterized vaping and Juuling as “quickly moving from a trend among a small percentage of teens to a major health crisis, with many implications still unknown.”
In the post, Orem cited a USA Today article that noted that the “Nicotine, contained in varying amounts in e-cigarettes, can rival the addictiveness of heroin and cocaine.”
Orem laid out several steps that are being taken to restrict teen access to vaping and Juuling products and she listed actions schools should take to protect students. Those actions included developing programs to educate students on the dangers of vapes and Juuls.
“Unfortunately, the long-term health effects of vaping and Juuling on both the development of the teen brain and overall physical health are just beginning to be discovered,” Orem said in her post. “There is time to end the honeymoon period for these devices if we act now as a community.”
What’s clear in Orem’s warning and in interviews with students is that with the introduction of Juuling and vaping into teenage culture, nicotine is even more accessible and popular to teens.
In fact, many of those devices are specifically targeted toward younger consumers, with pods being sold that have flavors like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and cotton candy.
One student who got in trouble this year for vaping on campus explained the reasoning.
“I’ve been exposed to smoking for quite some time, and I figured that if others enjoyed it so much that I might too,” the student said. “I know it’s bad for me. I’m also a very curious person by nature, and also struggle with anxiety and depression, causing me to oftentimes seek out things to help with that.”
Several students who have received disciplinary action from using nicotine at school believe that the current system in place should be improved to focus more on providing help for the student, and that all students should at least be offered these resources.
“I agree that students with an addiction should be offered help rather than being punished, for it’s obviously something they’re struggling with and can’t control anymore,” said a student who was eventually expelled for violating their contract. “It was my fault that I vaped on campus, it was my choice and my mistake. The consequences and contract that I received were fair for what I did. However, I don’t agree that I should be punished in such a harsh way.”
Head of School Craig Floyd and the OVS administration believe that, while students must still be held accountable for following school rules regarding drug use, providing more resources for students is something they can strive to do better in the future.
While there is the possibility that they might not be totally effective, seminars informing students about the health effects of drug use and/or better decision making are something that the school wants to try in the upcoming school year in hopes of making some positive change.
Moreover, Mr. Floyd said if any student came to him asking for help with a substance abuse issue, they would receive medical help and counseling. However, for students to not receive disciplinary consequences, they must come to the school for help before they are caught.
However, Mr. Floyd also pointed out that the school faces some obstacles in this area. For example, while the school could suggest that a student receive medical assistance for dealing with a substance abuse issue, it would ultimately be up to the student and his or her family to choose whether to go through the process.
“If a student had a medical issue that was precluding them from being a participating member of this community, then they may go out on a medical leave,” Mr. Floyd explained. “Ultimately the parent should be making a decision. […] If the parent is not willing to do it, there is very little I can do.”
One proposed way to educate students and to help those who may be addicted is to implement a health class and/or preventative measures for the entire student body throughout the school year.
If students were aware of the health effects from vaping before they used, then they might be less inclined to try it in the first place. For students who are already struggling with addiction, health information and/or available resources could be hugely beneficial in helping them kick their habits.
“It is easier to not develop a habit than to kick a habit,” Dr. Levin said.Share