Maxwell Unified to tackle vaping problem without suspensions

29

Students in Maxwell that get caught vaping in school, both nicotine and marijuana-laced products, will no longer get a vacation from class.

Instead, the Colusa County Office of Education will provide then with an alternative to suspension to help the schools and community address the growing vaping problem in a more supportive way, officials said.

Colusa County Tobacco Use Prevention Education Coordinator Santana King and School Resource Officer, Deputy Trenton Beck, pitched the Brief Intervention Program to the Maxwell Unified School District Board of Trustees last week.

The district has been under pressure by parents to improve discipline and safety of students, officials said. Colusa County schools not currently utilizing the program will also have the opportunity to get on board.

“Vaping is epidemic,” King said.

King said an alternative to suspension is offered in response to the growing problem among students, particularly now that so many devices are disguised as everyday items like pens, lipstick, and watches, and other electronic gadgets kids are attracted to.

In addition to high amounts of nicotine, an addictive chemical, students are also using devices in school that deliver THC, the principal psychoactive compound in cannabis, which could result in thinking and memory problems, drug addiction, and psychosis.

“In the 70s and 80, the amount of THC in marijuana was maybe five or six percent,” King said. “But what we’re seeing today (is up) to 99 percent THC concentrations, which is why you are seeing psychotic episodes, because the body can’t handle this much. These are not the products we grew up with. They are the next generation, and they are impacting the students more intensely.”

King said because students are unaware of the long terms effects of vaping nicotine and THC, schools are seeing more use even among elementary-aged youth.

“Suspension is no longer working because of the number of students that are utilizing these products,” King said. “Sending them home is just giving them the opportunity to do that at home.”

Instead of suspending students as punishment for vaping, the County Office of Education will provide students six hours of classroom time that teaches them about dependence, establishing healthy alternatives, methods to kick the unhealthy habit, and other tools that may lessen their usage and dependency.

“Every school can do it differently,” King said. “It doesn’t have to look the same. It can be tailored to what your school district wants.”

Deputy Beck said suspension is no longer punitive, can be costly to districts that cannot afford for their students to be out of school, and leads to poorer academic outcomes for students.

“This is a better option,” he said. “We are finding in all areas of the county, Maxwell, Princeton, and Colusa, that kids are going to the hospital from stuff they don’t know what they are taking. It’s all from the vaping pens.”

Beck, who will be involved in the intervention, said the six-hour program would be both educational and disciplinary, as students would be required to participate during the regular school day and one hour after school.

Beck said he currently has six students at Pierce High School going through the program, as well as a few from Johnson Jr. High.

While new, Beck said he thinks the small-group session will be effective and result in less repeated offenses.

The Maxwell school board on Oct. 9 approved the intervention class. The program will be offered to students caught vaping for the first time, as well as those who have repeat offenses, unless district officials believe suspension or expulsion is necessary. ■