In addition to teaching the curriculum, educators have another issue they’ve been working to tackle – vaping.

According to the 2017 Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey (YAS), almost 32 percent of the county’s teens indicated they had used an electronic vapor product – up from 24.9 percent in 2015.

In the past 3-4 years, vaping among students started slowly before it became prevalent, according to Paul Kunde, principal of Grand Haven’s Central High School.

“It’s a huge problem,” he said.

While trends change year to year, vaping has been on the rise among students, said Jon Fitzpatrick, assistant principal of Spring Lake High School.

Grand Haven High School Principal Tracy Wilson, who is in her 21st year as an administrator, said in the beginning of her career they dealt with students smoking cigarettes outside the school in the woods, but that doesn’t happen anymore.

While the number of teens reporting they used an electronic vapor product has increased, there was a decline in teens responding that they smoked cigarettes/cigars or used snuff or chewing tobacco in the past 30 days, according to the YAS report.

Although the legal age to buy the products is 18 and older, Kunde said teens are getting it into their hands “well before then.” Almost 10 percent of students who have ever used an electronic vapor product responded they were 13-14 years old the first time they tried it, according to the YAS report.

The taste and odor of cigarettes detracted teens from smoking, but vaping doesn’t have the same flavor or lasting odor, Wilson said. With changes in the law about selling flavored vape liquids and information about the impacts vaping has on health, Wilson said she’s hopeful students will choose to not try it.

Wilson said she understands that as children grow from adolescence to young adults, they try new things, but it’s scary because it can quickly become an addictive behavior.

While cigarette smoke has a distinct smell, vaping is more discreet and it’s harder to pick up on because the devices are small and easy to conceal, Kunde said.

A few years ago, Central High School’s smoke alarms were triggered on the first day of school and multiple times within the first week as a result of vaping in the bathrooms. Each alarm triggered an automatic and immediate response from the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety. Since then, male students now use the single-stall restroom in the building one at a time throughout the day, instead of the men’s restroom with multiple stalls, Kunde said.

GHAPS rules

Central students who are caught smoking – e-electronic cigarettes or other cigarettes – on campus receive a three-day suspension for the first offense and are referred to the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety, according to the school’s student handbook.

Vaping falls into the same category of tobacco for disciplinary action for Grand Haven High School students. With the first offense, parents are notified and students are referred to the school resource officer. The student receives a three-day out-of-school suspension and participates in a smoking cessation program, and are referred to student assistance.

Wilson said they want to educate students, support them if they have an addiction, and help connect them with agencies.

Second and third offenses receive parent notification and a referral to police and student assistance. Second offenses also receive a five-day out-of-school suspension, and third offenses have a 10-day suspension, according to the 2019-20 GHHS student handbook.

In an effort to educate parents, Wilson has included information about vaping, devices and statistics in emails to parents. She said if students vape at school, they’re likely also vaping elsewhere.

“It’s important we all work together to help students make positive choices,” the GHHS principal said.

Spring Lake Public Schools

To address the growing trend in student use, Spring Lake Public Schools recently updated its policies.

Since the devices can be used for substances other than nicotine or flavor liquids, the district’s stance is that it’s paraphernalia because it has multiple uses, whereas cigarettes has tobacco and is cut and dry, Fitzpatrick said. Students can’t be in possession of or use paraphernalia on campus.

Vaping falls under the school district’s drug policy. The first offense results in a 10-day out-of-school suspension. However, the suspension can be reduced to five days if the student and parents attend a substance abuse assessment. The purpose is to help parents get their child the assessment in case there’s something alarming behind their child’s usage, Fitzpatrick said.

The second offense is a 30-day suspension and a third offense is a 180-day suspension. The district’s Board of Education gets involved in the second and third offenses, Fitzpatrick said.

The policy is aimed at being a preventative measure, Fitzpatrick explained, because they want to educate students and create an environment where students can learn.

Since implementing the policy, most of the disciplinary actions they see start and end in the first offense.

While educators have noticed a decline in disciplinary actions since implementing the policy, Fitzpatrick noted it doesn’t mean students have stopped vaping outside of school walls.

“To get a kid to make a good choice, it’s more than just what happens at school,” he said.

Learning opportunities

GHHS students were scheduled to participate in a lesson today that addresses vaping. Wilson said they want to educate students and help them be successful.

Parents can also learn more about vaping during the Teens & Vapes Town Hall Meeting planned for 6:30-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14, at Loutit District Library, 407 Columbus Ave.

The meeting will include speakers Leigh Moerdyke, prevention and advocacy manager for Arbor Circle; Grand Haven Township resident Carolyn Taylor, who will share her family’s experience with vaping; and Dr. Sean Cunningham from Mercy Health.

As educators work to address vaping, Kunde has this advice for teens: “Avoid it. Don’t start.”

“Parents, talk to your kids about it,” he added.

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