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School boards look at adjusting policies amid increase in underage vaping

Posted at 10:41 PM, Apr 18, 2023

"If something's illegal, you can't do it on campus and that's the bottom line."

That's how Assistant Superintendent of Vermilion Parish Schools, Mark Turner, feels about the issue of underage vaping on campus — and he's not alone. School boards across Acadiana have shared their thoughts and policies on the matter. Some, like St. Mary Parish, are set to discuss policy revisions surrounding the subject as soon as Thursday.

According to a CDC study from November 2022, an estimated 3.08 million U.S. middle and high school students actively use tobacco products, most often through vaping or e-cigarettes. That's one in 6 high school students and 1 in 22 middle school students.

"At no time should the school be the most dangerous place in a kid's life so our policies need to be in place to protect the kids but at the same time to protect the kids that do decide to make the bad decisions so we can give them interventions to make them better," Turner tells KATC. "So is it easier to change policies? I think it's two-fold, you have to change policies to make your school system work, but you also need to enforce high expectations so we have safe school environments."

Bring in pulmonologists like Dr. Jonathan B. Vignes, based in Lafayette for the last nine months. He says while many of his patients are in their 40s or older, this is an issue that should be caught and addressed early as it could extend far beyond a student's school days.

"There really isn't a lot of long-term data to support what's going to happen to these folks 20 to 30 years from now, the majority of the data involving outcomes from chronic cigarette smoking wasn't really around until the 1950s and 1960s, years and years after people had been inhaling tobacco," Vignes says. "One of the issues now is that it's very difficult to warn and educate people about what exactly we're up against because not everyone understands."

Still, Vignes says the best way a parent could help their kid is by being up-front when discussing the issue, doing adequate research, and taking an educational approach, while also remembering to exercise understanding with the child or teen.

"Parents certainly can't pretend like this is not an issue and just say, 'My kid's gonna make good decisions,' there's no way of relying on that," Vignes tells KATC. "I made bad decisions as a kid, everyone does, I'm confident everyone does, but you have to understand the point that they're gonna be exposed to these things out in the world and they need to be properly informed."

KATC reached out to school boards across Acadiana to ask about their policies and thoughts on the issue of underage vaping. Here's who we've heard back from:

Acadia Parish, Superintendent Scott M. Richard: "The possession and use of any tobacco products shall be prohibited on any school campus, school vehicle or any other Acadia Parish School Board property. School campus includes the elementary or secondary school building and buildings on that campus, school grounds, playgrounds, premises, and property, including but not limited to land, improvements, and school facilities located on the property of any elementary or secondary school. School Board property shall include any portable buildings, field houses, stadiums, equipment storage areas, vacant land or any property owned, operated or leased by the School Board. The possession and use of any tobacco products shall be prohibited at school-sponsored functions away from school property.
This prohibition includes but is not limited to e-cigs, e-cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, advanced personal vaporizers, vape pens, and vape mods.
Parental permission to smoke does not exempt a student from this policy. Violations shall subject the student to appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct.
Revised: November 5, 2018"

Vermilion Parish, Superintendent Thomas Byler: "The possession, use, purchase, intent to distribute, concealment, distribution, or sale of tobacco products, including but not limited to cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, dip; any electronic smoking device, electronic cigarettes, and ALL nicotine delivery systems including Vaping and herbal delivery systems, or any paraphernalia (including but not limited to lighter, matches, etc.). NOTE: All pods will be tested for illegal or dangerous substances. In the event the device tests positive for illegal substances, Code 74 in Level 4 shall be used and student will automatically be recommended for expulsion.
1st Step
● In-School Suspension (1 day)
● Intervention: Student participates in VAPE/Tobacco
Education
● Parent Conference Required
● Law enforcement must be notified.
2nd Step
● Out-of-School Suspension (2 days)
● Intervention: Student participates in VAPE/Tobacco
Education
● Parent Conference Required
● Law enforcement must be notified.
3rd Step
● Recommendation for Expulsion
● Law enforcement must be notified.
Revised 10/19/22"

St. Mary Parish, Interim Superintendent Rachael Sanders: "This is actually an issue that will be discussed in our board meeting Thursday evening.
I will get back to you first thing Friday to let you know any revisions they make to our current policy: St.MaryCAPS (stmaryk12.net)"

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