In response to the continual increase in use of electronic cigarettes in schools, the school system has created a class to offer students as a disciplinary action.
Prior to the 2018-2019 school year, about 50 students a year were first-time offenders of the school system’s Tobacco-Free and Inhalant-Free School Environment policy; 10 to 15 students were second-time offenders, Buck Hennigan, executive director of student services for Harford County Public Schools, said. Most of those violations were tobacco cigarettes.
During the last school year, more than 200 students violated the policy for the first time and at least three-quarters of those were students who were vaping, Hennigan said.
Harford County school board member Dr. Roy Phillips, an endocrinologist, said vaping in schools, and in general, has become an increasing problem, and he has heard about it from students during his participation in the Harford County Sheriff’s Office Pledge Program.
The Pledge Program teaches third-, fourth- and fifth-graders about the dangers of alcohol, drug and tobacco use.
“They taught me more about vaping than I taught them,” Phillips said.
Across the country, 450 cases of acute lung injuries have been reported, resulting in five deaths, linked to vaping, he said. The average age was 19 years old, and none of them had an acute or chronic medical illness that put them at risk of developing problems, Phillips said.
At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, Phillips asked how the school system is educating its students.
“I think we’re responsible not only for their academics, but their health well-being as well,” he said.
Harford County Public School’s health curriculum includes lessons on vaping offered in fifth- through eighth-grade classes.
Those lessons include looking at influences of family, peers, culture, media, technology and other factors on vaping and other health behaviors as well as decision-making to avoid health risks to themselves and others, according to information provided by the school system.
In middle school health classes, the vaping education focuses on products, effects, legality and influences.
Students who were caught using electronic cigarettes in schools were referred to a mandatory class through the Harford County Health Department as a way to avoid suspension.
Because of the substantial increase in students vaping, the health department classes are full and they don’t have the funding to add more, Hennigan said.
So students could continue to get that education, the school system developed its own online education class that will be offered this fall to students who can take the class online while in school or at home, he said.
The use of electronic cigarettes is one of the first issues the Principal’s Action Committee at C. Milton Wright addressed last school year, said Christian Walker, a CMW student and the student representative on the Board of Education.
Then-principal Michael Thatcher rolled in a cart several feet long with the variety of vaping devices confiscated at school and told the student committee members a solution was needed.
What was developed was an activity provided on early dismissal days that included a video and information on the dangers of the use of electronic cigarettes, Walker said.
Letters were also sent to parents reaffirming the school system’s tobacco and inhalant policy, he said.
Initially, the number of people caught vaping at the school dropped, but it gradually crept back up, Walker said.
“But a number of parents called to get students help and support for getting off the products,” Walker said, suggesting the CMW program be used as a model at other schools.
“Ultimately, it also comes down to parenting,” he said.