School Committee Tackles Vaping Issues At Wilmington High School & Middle School

WILMINGTON, MA — At Wednesday night’s meeting, the Wilmington School Committee heard a presentation from the district’s Vaping Committee about proposed changes to the high school and middle school handbooks as it relates to vaping.

Background

The Vaping Committee consists of:

  • Coordinator of Behavioral Health & Social Emotional Support Christine Murray
  • Middle School Assistant Principal Jeanette Quirk
  • High School Assistant Principal Christopher Phillips
  • Town Health & Recovery Coordinator Samantha Reif
  • WHS student Jocelyn White
  • WHS student Patrick O’Mahony

The Vaping Committee was formed earlier in the school year to address ongoing concerns around vaping. They’ve met weekly since the end of January to discuss the current trend of student vaping, review the district’s student handbook substance use policy, and explore a diversionary program.

“We’ve seen an uptick in vaping behavior at the Middle School,” announced WMS Assistant Principal Jeannette Quirk. “It can be difficult at times to detect vapes — the devices look different, are changing, and can be tiny and easily hidden.  Some clothing and sweatshirts even have vape devices built-in now.”

WHS student Patrick O’Mahony noted that the vaping situation is so bad at the High School that two of the four boys bathrooms are closed.

“We can monitor two bathrooms, but it’s very difficult to monitor four bathrooms,” admitted WHS Assistant Principal Christopher Phillips. “It’s a major problem for us…. We’ve had to call EMTs/paramedics for students who had medical issues caused by vaping.”

Phillips noted that it’s difficult for administrators to know what’s in the vapes. Some contain much more than nicotine, including THC or marijuana.

“We have kids using drugs in school and we can’t tell. We can’t [what’s inside] unless it’s written on the device,” added Phillips.

The Vaping Committee has accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time. Members have identified vaping concerns; reviewed current handbook policies; researched other district’s policies and procedures around discipline and vaping; discussed best practices for substance use diversionary programs; and planned student-led presentation on vaping to be delivered to 5th grade health classes at the West and North.

The Vaping Committee has also applied for a grant (CHNA 15 2019 Collaborative Grant) to fund “the Wilmington E-Cigarette Education and Policy Initiative,” focused on providing additional educational supports to various Wilmington groups; instituting proactive alternatives to disciplinary infractions; and introducing technological supports to assist school staff in enforcement efforts. The Committee hopes to hear if it received the grant soon.

Proposal Highlights

The Vaping Committee is proposing changes to the high school and middle school vaping/electronic smoking device policy. The Committee is also adding policies regarding the suspicion of vape use and a diversionary program that will be offered to offenders.

“E-cigarettes and vaping was added to our Tobacco policy about 2-3 years ago,” said Phillips. “The student would receive a $50 fine from the Board of Health and receive 1 day of in-school suspension if would with a vape.”

“We need to create a new policy to stiffen the factors related to using a vape in school. We need to separate vapes from our tobacco policy,” continued Phillips. “[Under the proposed policy], a student found in violation for the first time (possession or use of a vape) would receive a 5-day out-of-school suspension or choose to participate in a free 1-day diversionary program. A 2nd offense would require a 5-day out-of-school suspension or a free 5-week diversionary program.”

The 1-day diversionary program would be taken in-school. It’s an online program purchased through VapeEducate, featuring a five-part course with  graded quizzes at the end of each course.

“Hopefully students would choose the diversionary program as it’s more appealing than a suspension,” added WMS Assistant Principal Jeannete Quirk. 

School Committee Reacts

“Thank you for being leaders and taking this action,” School Committee Vice Chair Steve Bjork told the Vaping Committee’s student members. “I certainly appreciate all the work you’re doing. This is a huge concern and you have your work cut out for you.”

“Thank you for doing this work,” added new School Committee member Jay Samaha. “I like the diversion program. I’m interested in learning more about that. It makes much more sense [than a punitive suspension]. It’s a more pro-active approach.”

In response to a question from Samaha, Committee members clarified that details surrounding the 5-week diversion program still needed to be ironed out, but it would be a combination of some in-school time and out-of-school time.

“Each week, students [in the 5-week diversion program] would be given materials in the forms of videos, articles and online sources that will assist a deeper delve into topics discussed in the one-day program,” reads the proposed policy. “Each student will need to fill out a question sheet. During the course of each week, the student will also meet with an assigned staff member to discuss their answers. The staff members will be someone that is relevant to the topic for that week, such as a Health Teacher, Nurse, Guidance Counselor, School Resource Officer, or Assistant Principal. The Principal will also check in with the student each week.”

“My favorite part of this is that the high school students will go to the West and North to speak with the 5th graders,” noted School Committee Chair Jennifer Bryson. “It will be really powerful to hear from you. There’s such a shift when they leave the North and West and go to the Middle School.”

In response to a question from Bryson, Phillips clarified that student athletes who are caught vaping will also be subject to the district’s chemical health policy and MIAA rules.

“You’ve started very strongly,” School Committee member MJ Byrnes told the Vaping Committee. “The Vaping Committee should meet with the School Committee’s Policy Subcommittee to team together to create a district policy. This could be a wonderful collaborative approach to really targeting the concerns and issues surrounding vaping.”

School Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand noted the the proposed policy changes and additions have already been signed off on by the district’s attorney.

Brand added that the Committee will be asked to include the proposed policies as part of their annual High School and Middle School Handbook votes. The formal “readings” of the handbooks will take place at their May 22 meeting and the votes will take place at their June 12 meeting. Brand suggested that if the new vaping policies are included in the handbooks, the School Committee could then update the district’s vaping policy and align it with the handbook’s policies.

Read The Proposed Policy Revisions & Additions Below (apologies for the weird line breaks):

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