Vaping raising alarms at East Noble |…



Nationally, vaping among youth has been labeled an epidemic as youngsters smoke nicotine-laced liquids from battery-powered devices.

East Noble has been no exception to the vape wave. But how bad is it, really?

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Student Services Director Matt Stinson showed a photo during his presentation to the school board of some of the vape devices they’ve seized. The photo of the desktop shows more than 40 multi-colored vape devices of all shapes and sizes.

Those vapes?

Seized at East Noble Middle School.

In about half a year.

That doesn’t even include the second half of the 2021-22 school year, nor does it account for vapes seized at the high school.

Board member Jen Blackman’s mouth literally hung wide open as she looked at the photo and listened to Stinson explain it.

“E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among kids,” Stinson said, and the problem hasn’t magically skipped over East Noble.

In the COVID-shortened 2019-20 school year, East Noble Middle School had nine discipline incidents related to vaping. In 2021-22? Fifty-three incidents. And that, too, is just a faction of the problem.

“These are ones where kids were actually caught, specifically caught,” Stinson said. “If you talk to students and you talk to staff, this number is very small in comparison to the size of the problem.”

Vapes or e-cigarettes are electronic devices that allow users to inhale vapor created by heating a liquid cartridge, commonly known as e-liquid or vape juice. E-liquids are tobacco products as they contain nicotine, the addictive substance found in traditional tobacco and the main drug delivered by smoking traditional cigarettes, cigars or from chewing tobacco.

Vapes can also contain other substances including THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana. Those kinds of liquids aren’t legal in Indiana, but Stinson noted “there are plenty of billboards how far you need to drive to get that” in nearby Michigan, where they are legal to purchase.

Vapes have the advantage of delivering nicotine without the smoke and tar present from smoking traditional tobacco, but the chemicals in e-liquids can present their own unique health impacts that can cause lung damage from substances formed when the liquid is heated and transformed to vapor.

While originally marketed to help smokers transition to a safer alternative with the hope of quitting, studies have shown vapes rarely lead to regular smokers quitters and instead primarily have had the impact of getting new people — especially young people — addicted to nicotine.

Vapes are restricted to Hoosiers 21 and older — Stinson misspoke during the meeting and said they’re legal at 18, but state laws changed in July 2020 when the state upped the age for all tobacco products including vapes following an age hike passed into federal law — but students continue to get their hands on the devices and liquids whether it’s from swiping from parents or having older siblings or friends purchase for them.

One reason why vapes have been so attractive to minors is because of the e-liquids, which come in a variety of flavors including those you’d expect to find in the candy or juice aisles — cherry, strawberry, banana, butterscotch, apple.

In a survey of minors who have vaped, the No. 1 reason kids reported trying vaping was “to experiment,” Stinson said. The second most cited reason?

“Because it tastes good. Second most commonly stated reason.” Stinson reported. “The market actually is an issue, it certainly is, and that’s not something East Noble has the power to address but something we need to be mindful of.”

Vaping was one of the top issues state lawmakers aimed to tackle during their 2019 session, with several bills filed. But what actually passed was very limited and a measure that would have banned flavored e-liquids fizzled out.

This year, state lawmakers actually passed a reduction in taxes on vape juices as part of a broader tax package, drawing ire from anti-smoking groups.

Now East Noble is putting more focus on battling back against the problem, in some ways similar to the ways it has fought cigarettes for decades.

Being a school, education is going to be a primary component, Stinson said.

“We definitely want to increase education in terms of the danger of vaping,” Stinson said, talking about introducing programming from Drug Free Noble County, other health groups and working more vaping information into health curriculum from elementary all the way through high school. “The earlier we get them the truth, the better off it will be, because many of our students believe it’s perfectly safe, it’s perfectly fine, and that’s not the case.”

The school will have a second tier of education for students who are actually caught vaping, which could include an intensive anti-smoking course students will be required to complete as part of their discipline plan.

Vaping underage is a ticketable offense and school resources officers have written tickets to students for violating the law. That being said, Stinson said those tickets haven’t seemed to have much of a deterrent effect on students, some of who have racked up multiple tickets during their school career and still continued to vape.

East Noble has a progressive discipline schedule, so students who have multiple offenses for vaping will face increasing consequence up to and including suspensions and, yes, even explusion, with Stinson noting that students have been expelled from school for vaping.

Enforcement is a problem, however, because of the covert nature of vapes and ease of use.

Many vapes are designed to be inconspicuous — they can look like computer flash drives, car key fobs, even disguised as wristwatches — and can be easily hidden. When students want to vape, doing so can be as easy as taking a quick hit or two in the bathroom and walking out.

Vape liquid doesn’t hang like cigarette smoke and getting a nicotine fix through a vape isn’t nearly as time consuming as standing around smoking a cigarette.

A lot of vaping is occuring in restrooms, with Stinson said that some students have reported not wanting to use the bathrooms at school because they don’t want to run into students using vapes during passing period.

East Noble can’t really staff bathrooms to keep an eyes out for vaping, primarily due to privacy concerns but also because students are likely to simply avoid a particular bathroom if they notice a staff member around and will seek out somewhere else to hit their vape.

East Noble has also installed vape detectors in its restrooms, which will send off an alert if they detector vapor. Those detectors are also tamper-sensitive, so if students attempt to move, cover or break them, that will also set off an alert to school administration.

But the amount of time administrators are spending running discipline for vaping, investigating vaping incidents and pulling kids out of class to talk to them is becoming increasingly disruptive.

“Both of those (students and teachers) strongly indicated this is a problem,” Stinson said. “It is an issue that’s affecting our school climate.”

East Noble Middle School Principal Andy Deming said administration is on the back foot, currently forced into a reactive approach to the problem that is continuing to grow at an alarming rate.

Stinson said new vaping education is East Noble’s shot at trying to stem the problem, although he didn’t hold back the view that it’s likely not going to be enough on its own. It’s an issue all area schools are dealing with at the same time as vaping has run roughshod over youth.

“None of us believe this plan will stop the problem. This is not an East Noble problem. This is a societal problem,” he said.

In other business at Wednesday’s school board meeting, members:

Approved the following personnel changes:

Resignations: Cory Headley, school social worker at North Side Elementary; Julie Page, office instructional assistant at North Side; Jayla Hazen, third-grade teacher at North Side; Lindsey Scherer, first-grade teacher at Rome City Elementary; Melissa Blue, bus route driver; Erin Fitzpatrick, third-grade teacher at Wayne Center Elementary; Tara Hall, art teacher at East Noble High School and South Side Elementary; Ethan Hood, head boys soccer coach at East Noble Middle School; Trevor Rainey, assistant wrestling coach at ENHS; Joantha Smith, robotics head coach, tech site coordinator and upper elementary lead teacher at Avilla Elementary School.

Reassingments: Rachel Ruse, from dean of students for Wayne Center to director of the Alternative Learning Center; Melissa Hardin, from skills for success teacher to guidance counselor at North Side; Elizabeth Newcomer, from instructional coach at North Side to dean of students at Wayne Center; Morgan Rupert, from first-grade teacher at Avilla Elementary to third-grade teacher at Wayne Center; Craig Munk, from Cole Auditorium manager to theatre production adviser at ENHS.

New hires: Lindsey Grogg, speech language interpreter at Avilla; Megan Books, second-grade teacher at Rome City; Katelyn Walker, instructional assistant at Rome City; Denae Hensler, fifth-grade teacher at Rome City; Grace Cox, media assistant at Wayne Center; Autumn Burgi, special education teacher at Wayne Center; Tiffany Barhyt, instructional assistnat at South Side; Dakota Quinley, instructional assistant at North Side; Natalie Bushong, third-grade teacher at North Side; John Nolan, special education teacher at ENHS; Amanda Jansen, personal finance teacher at ENHS; Erin Jimenez, transportation driver; Danika Conley, instructional assistant at Wayne Center; Kristen Christian, instructional assistant at ENMS; Aliyah Jimenez, instructional assistant at Wayne Center; Marya Arnold, instructional assistant at ENMS; Megan Rodenbeck, yearbook sponsor at Avilla; Mark Schutte, department head at Avilla; Sheri Onion, newspaper sponsor at Avilla; Ann Ventura, tech site coordinator at Avilla; Nate Weimer, assistant unifed flag football coach at ENHS; Christ Mettert and Josh Ogle, sharing the position as Cole Auditorium manager; Ryan Worman, head boys soccer coach for ENHS; Tyler Gross, assistnat boys basketball coach at ENHS.

• Were informed that school lunch prices will remain the same for 2022-23 as they were last school year. That being said, free lunches that were made available to all students due to COVID-19 impacts have since expired, so East Noble reminded low-income parents that they will need to file paperwork to request free or reduced-price lunches this year.

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