Published: 1/22/2023 9:05:40 PM
AMHERST — As the number of fights between students in the bathrooms at Amherst Regional High School appears to be declining, school administrators report that vape detectors continue to show that the number of students vaping in the lavatories is not going down.
“Last year and at the beginning of this year, there were a bunch of fights in the bathrooms, there was also some vaping and unfortunately students doing other drugs and making other bad decisions in there,” Principal Talib Sadiq told the Amherst Regional School Committee at its meeting last week.
In providing an overview of what he terms the “bathroom culture,” Sadiq said there were significantly fewer fights in the fall than there had been last spring, when police were called to altercations, and assault and battery charges were brought against some of the individuals involved.
But vaping has continued to be a problem, with Sadiq noting that it is likely some number of students can’t kick the nicotine habit.
“If they can’t go a day without vaping, then, in my nonprofessional opinion, it seems like they are addicted,” Sadiq said.
The vape detectors are mostly being used as a source of data collection.
“We haven’t caught more students in the act, but we are able to respond and often see groups of students coming out (of the bathrooms),” Sadiq said.
Those students who are determined to have been vaping have their vape pens and other paraphernalia confiscated and their belongings searched, and can be subject to suspension or a community service requirement. Sadiq said the hope is to have this Saturday service component overseen by Amherst’s Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service in the future. Currently, a custodian coordinates it.
Vaping students are also required to attend three sessions with a school adjustment counselor.
The schools previously tightened up rules on bathroom use last spring, and hired additional adults to be outside bathrooms. Hall monitors are also trained in deescalation and are the ones responding when vape detectors go off.
The drop in fights Sadiq attributed to both more adults in the hallways, as well as the maturation of some ninth and 10th graders who were involved, more engagement with families and a restorative justice program.
Sadiq said he has also gotten input from Student Leadership Groups and praised the work of students who are trying to get their peers to feel a better sense of belonging at the school through attending events, whether athletics or musical performances.
Amherst representative Peter Demling said the district needs to find ways of getting students and parents information about vaping and the vulnerability young people have to nicotine.
“It’s a real hard thing for kids to resist,” Demling said.
Amherst representative Irv Rhodes said restorative justice should be part of the fabric of the school, not just for special occasions or as discipline for students who get into trouble.
“The system, the philosophy, the teachings of RJ are so powerful in terms of community building,” Rhodes said.
Superintendent Michael Morris said the problems with both fights and vaping are not unique to children from the Amherst, Shutesbury, Pelham and Leverett communities, but are part of a nationwide “social disconnection” that resulted from the pandemic, lockdowns and remote instruction. Rebuilding community and relationships is critical, Morris said.
Meanwhile, committee members discussed whether to adopt a more stringent cellphone policy, like some districts where cellphones are put away during the academic day.
Demling said cellphones are a distraction.
“The impact of cellphones and the things that cellphone deliver on the attention and behavior of human beings is a serious problem in society,” Demling said.
Rhodes, too, is ready to consider a policy, as some students in the past have used their phones to set up fights or record altercations.
“I see no benefit for a kid to come to school and have access to their telephone while they are in school,” Rhodes said.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at [email protected]