A parent addressed the board and administrators Tuesday night at North County's October board meeting, sharing his concerns about student vaping throughout the school system. He said he’d already spoken to a few administrators about its prevalence and asked whether more could be done to prevent students from taking up the habit.
“They (school personnel) all agree that there's a huge issue with vaping in the school and it's a struggle to deal with it. I've thrown some suggestions out there that I feel might help,” he said. “I don't know, I'm not an educated person. I've asked them, maybe we send letters home to the parents that there's an issue in the school, we need your help. I suggested to Mr. (Jason) Toney (assistant middle school principal), that maybe we start some sort of club against vaping. I don't know what the students have.
“I just feel like we need to do a little more. I don't know what we can do, I just feel like the issue is still there. It's been there for a while and it's not going away.”
Board President Randy Hubbard asked, “You’re talking about the high school mostly, right?”
“No,” the parent replied, “high school all the way down to Parkside (Elementary, grades 3-4). My son had huge issues with it last year. The biggest issue I have is, my son doesn’t get them from me. He gets them from school. They say these high schoolers bring them on the bus and maybe sell them to the younger kids and that’s how it gets passed down. In fifth and sixth grade, that’s where they’re having the issues with the use. And Mr. Toney, this year, every time I’ve talked to him, he says he’s chasing it down every day.”
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Hubbard asked, “Have we had any suspensions or warnings or anything here?”
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brandon Gregory said discipline had been issued according to grade level.
“I've talked to all the principals asking, what are we experiencing? What are we doing? You know, our SRO, Officer Brian Whitfield’s completed some training and he was aware of some new programs and new things he’s wanting to try to implement this year.”
Gregory mentioned St. Francois County Community Partnership is planning to send out three postcards to district 6th-graders’ parents this year concerning kids’ vaping, in hopes of enlisting their support.
“Principals are trying to keep on it, trying to chase it down,” he said, “but it's the new cigarettes. Instead of smoking in the boys’ room, they're vaping.”
Superintendent Katie Bockman observed that monitoring vaping is actually more difficult than catching smoking. “It's harder to catch, it's easy to hide.”
“It's the smell, you don't notice it, maybe and it's not like cigarette smoke that would permeate. When I worked at Parkside, I ran into little ones, and usually it's older brother and sister bringing the thing and (saying) ‘they won't search you, hold onto this for me, I'll get it back from you.’”
Board member James “Jebo” Bullock asked whether there was a policy on not only refraining from vaping on school grounds, but refraining from possessing vapes on school grounds.
“It’s treated like tobacco possession or usage, it’s an issue just having it,” Gregory answered.
Bullock asked what the first disciplinary measure was.
“Well, it depends on the age group. It's kind of like with a lot of disciplinary measures, you're not going to treat a first grader or a third grader who was in possession of it and a first offense, like a middle or high school kid. It could be anywhere from loss of recess time up through AP and on multiple offenses, it could be OSS (out of school suspension), it depends,” Gregory said. “There’s parent contact with all those involved, no matter what level it is.”
Bullock stressed the importance of always having the parents involved.
“Yeah,” Gregory said, “Usually when we make those phone calls, the parents, like this parent tonight, they're very supportive. Every parent I ever spoke to about, they tell me, ‘I don't know where they’re getting it,’ or they'll say ‘I know this kid in the neighborhood and that's probably where they’re getting it.’ Our parents are trying to be vigilant on their end. We're trying to be vigilant on ours, but these things are sneaking through the cracks.”
Assistant Superintendent Jason Samples said he appreciates the DARE instructor provided through the St. Francois County Sherriff’s Office, Deputy Gary Carver.
“I told (Carver), ‘I know you’re a police officer, but you’re really a good teacher,’” Samples said. “He builds really good relationships with kids in fifth through seventh grade and includes vaping as part of the DARE program. So that’s one place where we get to be proactive.”
The parent, whose identity is not being disclosed since he spoke about his children, said he appreciated the efforts, but hoped more anti-vaping efforts could be made.
“I know the school's hands are tied in a lot of ways, but I feel we got to be doing something more proactive,” he said. “I know they said they've put teachers outside of bathrooms, I honestly don't understand, if it's a male teacher, why he can't be inside that bathroom. I don't know the legal stuff about it, but it makes no sense to me — if it's male, and a male bathroom. Because that's where they say they're doing it (vaping), they're going in the bathroom. Like I said, in seconds, it's gone.”
Board member Alan Gremminger asked whether the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had any programs on combatting vaping. Bockman said DARE had changed to include that habit.
“The old program focused mainly on drugs and alcohol, but it’s changed,” she said. “It’s educating kids on the dangers (of vaping) and trying to reach them at a young age, teaching them behaviors have consequences. Parents’ support is so important, too.
“The (St. Francois County Community) Partnership that Dr. Gregory was talking about, that’s great, because it doesn’t just reach North County, it reaches all St. Francois County schools. And it’s going to take all of our schools. It’s not just here, it’s everywhere. I think it’s a great thing, if we’re all working on it as a community, that’s going to be most effective.”
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.