By Emily Wilson
Sheets of white copy paper covered the inside and outside of each stall: “People love you. Please don’t vape or misuse this stall. One person per stall.” I never realized how big of an issue vaping was at my school until I walked into our basement restroom and saw these signs plastered everywhere. Vaping has not only become a national health epidemic, but e-cigarette and vape usage have doubled the amount of teen drug and tobacco use in the past two years. This epidemic has sent school administrations into a frenzy of policy changes, legal battles, and drug education efforts over the last few years, and Blue Springs South is no exception.
Since August 2018 to now, BSSD has changed the policy and disciplinary action for students K-12 for issues of vaping three times. The battle to find the most efficient policy is being fought by school districts across America. The current policy for e-cigarette usage at South (which falls under the category of drug abuse) is three days out-of-school suspension (OSS) and seven days in-school suspension (ISS). If the issue involves a student distributing a product such as substances, devices, pods, etc., the suspension can become five days OSS and five days ISS. This has changed since last semester when the policy was an automatic ten days OSS and a referral to the school district central office.
South principal Charlie Belt says the most recent change was because district leadership thought the automatic ten-day suspension was too severe for some students who could learn their lesson with a lesser consequence.
“District and school leadership felt like the message was sent last semester,” Belt said. “We shifted to a combination of out-of-school and in-school suspension thinking it would hopefully be better for students, yet still having the overall policy be the strict 10 days of a suspension to get our point across.”
Surrounding school districts Lee’s Summit and Independence did not respond for comment, but according to their 2019-2020 handbooks do not reach the same level of consequence as BSSD until after the third offense. Lee’s Summit’s disciplinary action for a student’s first offense is five days ISS (potentially 3 per completion of an assigned program). Independence School District also has a three-to-five-day suspension depending on the situation.
Prior to the last two BSSD policies being implemented, there were 33 disciplinary incidents involving e-cigarette usage on campus. Last semester, there was a total of 12 suspensions at South and over 100 in the school district grades 6-12. South’s school resource officer Jon Mitchell said the first school to enforce last semester’s policy was at Moreland Ridge on the first day back from Christmas break. Since August 2019, there have been at least 13 cases recorded at Blue Springs South. The disciplinary actions, which include but are not limited to, in- and out-of-school suspensions, have been for student use or possession of products ranging from E-cigarettes such as Juuls, Njoys, and other various brands to dab pens (used purely for the consumption of tiny little concentrates of THC called Dabs, instead of your more traditional dry herb or e-liquid) and marijuana.
“In the past seven-day period (November 1- November 7), I can recall four different products I’ve confiscated,” says Mitchell, as he reflects on the frequency of devices impounded. “That’s seemingly becoming more normal.”
According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as of October 2019, 90 percent of school suspensions are related to e-cigarettes and vaping.
As more and more statistics come out every single day about the short- and long-term effects of vaping, school district’s policy continue to develop and evolve to help students. According to an online article from Reuters, as of October 2019, at least four school districts within 200 miles of Blue Springs have filed law-suits against Juul because “the company is creating a nationwide ‘epidemic of vaping’ and said it had been “forced to expend significant resources combating this public nuisance.”
Policies and disciplinary action are not the only things that schools are considering. Another big front administrators are facing is prevention techniques such as nicotine detectors and educational programs for students, but there is still a question of what is the most affective.
“(Nicotine detectors) are expensive and there are still questions about their accuracy,” says Belt. “The district has considered and is trying to get some information from other districts around our city, the Midwest, and in the state to see what their success levels are as well as what dynamics or problems they create, but we’re looking into it,” he said.
School districts are not the only ones scrambling to crack down on this epidemic. The CDC has named the newly identified lung disease causing these injuries and fatalities EVALI (the acronym stands for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury). According to the CDC, typical symptoms experienced by patients are coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath (before their health deteriorated to the point that they needed to be hospitalized), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and weight loss. Many victims of EVALI have ended up with acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs and prevents the oxygen needed to function from circulating in the bloodstream.
On November 8, CDC officials announced their breakthrough discovery, saying they identified vitamin E acetate in the lung fluids of 29 people sickened in the outbreak of dangerous vaping-related lung injuries. They believe the oil is likely a major cause of the outbreak.
An article by Independent UK claims as a result of the 43 and growing number of vaping related deaths (at least 2 of which were Missouri residents) and 2,000+ lung injuries, President Trump is considering placing a ban on all flavored e-cigarette products. Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed an executive order October 15 calling for a coalition of state government departments to create and launch a campaign aimed at reducing youth vaping. The campaign will be called “Clear the Air.” With none of that in place yet, school officials still are at the forefront in the battle against teen drug abuse.