KYLE, Texas (KXAN) — As the Trump administration works on a plan to ban the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes, a Central Texas superintendent says the serious health crisis has gotten so bad students are vaping in the classroom.
Dr. Eric Wright, the Hays CISD Superintendent, told KXAN concerned students were the ones who brought the major problem to his attention.
“I asked the kids what was the number one challenge facing them today and what they would like me to address as a superintendent if they were in my shoes — and they said vaping,” said Wright.
The group of teens who sit on a special student advisory council told Wright the devices are so small and concealable, their classmates are doing it when teachers turn their backs.
“It’s alarming and it tells me that we need to take some action, we need to be proactive and we need to help kids really work through the situation so that if they are addicted that there is some type of protocol to support them.”
His district is looking at new ways to tackle the problem hitting middle school and high school campuses, both on the staff side and addiction side for students. Here’s a snapshot of how many students were caught with a vaping device during the 2018-2019 school year:
- HAYS HIGH SCHOOL: 70
- LEHMAN HIGH SCHOOL: 17
- DAHLSTROM MIDDLE SCHOOL: 13
- BARTON MIDDLE SCHOOL: 9
- IMPACT: 8
- WALLACE MIDDLE SCHOOL: 7
- CHAPA MIDDLE SCHOOL: LESS THAN 5
The numbers are much higher in Leander ISD, which is a much larger school district. According to data obtained through an open records request, LISD had 514 vaping incidents during the 2018-2019 school year, and 401 incidents in the 2017-2018 school year. KXAN asked for a breakdown per campus, but the information was not provided.
Austin ISD said it just started tracking vaping incidents separately this school year, but the data will not be available until the end of the school year. A district communications specialist said starting this year, “there is a focus on the topic at the fourth and fifth-grade levels for early prevention measures.”
Because vaping has caught fire so fast, Wright said Hays CISD teachers have not been trained at the level they need to be to better identify the devices. Up to this point, only administrators have been trained.
Wright said teachers also lack the knowledge needed to educate kids about the resources available to get them the support they need to fight the addiction.
KXAN obtained photos of the dozens of vaping devices Hays CISD confiscated last school year, through an open records request. Thursday, the superintendent laid dozens of the devices out on a table in his office to illustrate how easy it is for students to conceal them.
Many are designed to look like a USB stick, and some students are using vaping pods that fit into what looks like an Apple watch.
School and legal consequences
Once campus staff find and take a device, a student faces consequences both on the legal side and at school. Wright said just for a student who is under 21 years old, being in possession of a vaping device is a Class C misdemeanor. If THC is found in the device, a student can be charged with a felony. Discipline at school can range from in-school suspension to alternative school.
For Wright, the health scares are far more of a concern. He said several students have suffered serious health conditions as a result of vaping.
“That’s the scary thing, they can put anything and everything inside one of the pods and then vape,” said Wright.
New push to educate students
The Hays CISD student advisory council recommended creating videos that will come from the students themselves, and they also recommended a diversion program that would allow students to come forward and tell a staff member they need help to alleviate addiction.
Wright also said parents need to be talking to their kids, and warning them about the dangers.
“Parents need to have a frank conversation with their kids,” said Wright. [And say] you need to know right now I’m not gonna judge you, but I want to help you and we’re gonna work through this so let’s have a frank and honest dialogue.”