The New Kensington-Arnold School District will be taking a less punitive, more helpful approach to students caught violating its tobacco and vaping policy for the first time.
The school board recently approved an update to the tobacco policy in the student handbook. For a first offense, students will receive three days of in-school suspension. They’ll also be enrolled in a four-session program focused on tobacco use, nicotine dependence, establishing healthy alternatives and making the change to be free of tobacco products.
That program, Intervention for Nicotine Dependence: Education, Prevention, Tobacco and Health, or INDEPTH, is offered by Adagio Health, which is working with the school district. It was developed by the American Lung Association with the Prevention Research Center of West Virginia University.
Adagio is the tobacco prevention and control manager of a state-funded grant in the Southwest region, covering 11 counties including Westmoreland, said Casey Monroe, vice president of disease prevention with Adagio in Pittsburgh.
Adagio reached out to the district as part of its work, she said.
“We are thrilled that the school district wanted to take the time to address these issues. There is a huge epidemic on the rise of kids vaping,” Monroe said. “It’s also much easier to conceal vaping products. Students are finding all kinds of ways to essentially hide these products from teachers, school administrators and parents.”
According to New Kensington-Arnold’s safe schools report for last school year, the district had 15 incidents of possession, use or sale of tobacco, and no such incidents with vaping materials.
Superintendent Chris Sefcheck said the new language in the district’s code of conduct provides help for students in addition to discipline.
“Our goal is to provide help to students and lower the amount of students using devices to smoke,” he said. “Rather than being purely punitive, it adds a layer of restorative practice to our process. Our goal is to keep kids healthy and in school where they should make better decisions.
“This is a proactive way to approach teen vaping and nicotine use before this becomes a big issue.”
Monroe said Adagio is working with New Kensington-Arnold leaders to train district staff in the INDEPTH program and its “Not on Tobacco,” or “NOT” program, which is a program for teens to quit vaping and tobacco use.
As of July 2021, 60% of students who completed the INDEPTH program reported they were willing to quit using tobacco products, Monroe said. About 90% of teens who participate in NOT cut back or quit.
Youth who complete NOT “have been shown to have better grades, higher motivation, fewer absences, better relationships with teachers and fewer school tobacco use policy violations,” Monroe said.
After training New Kensington-Arnold staff to become facilitators, Monroe said they can develop a Tobacco Resistance Unit, or TRU, group. TRU is a movement in Pennsylvania to help youths ages 12 to 18 stay tobacco and nicotine free. It’s managed by the state Alliance to Control Tobacco and the American Lung Association.
“It is essentially a group of peer-led ambassadors who want to ensure that there aren’t tobacco and nicotine products in their schools, in public parks and places where people live, work and play,” Monroe said.
Stiffer sanctions for repeat offenders
Under New Kensington-Arnold’s updated student handbook tobacco policies, penalties increase with second and third offenses.
For a second offense, students would receive three days of in-school suspension, enrollment in the “Smokeless Saturday” program and be referred to district court.
Smokeless Saturday is a half-day virtual session taught by facilitators trained by Breathe Pennsylvania, a non-profit headquartered in Cranberry. It is described as an intensive awareness and cessation program for youths found in possession of tobacco and/or nicotine products on school property.
At a third offense, consequences are three days of in-school suspension, referral to district court and loss of privileges for 45 days including hallway, cellphone, extracurricular activities and driving, if applicable.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .