Pictured is a sample of the wide variety of vaping/e-cigarette products recently confiscated from Goshen Junior High School students. Image provided
Pictured is a sample of the wide variety of vaping/e-cigarette products recently confiscated from Goshen Junior High School students. Image provided
GOSHEN — Faced with a rise in vaping/e-cigarette usage by students at the junior high and high school levels, Goshen Community Schools officials Monday announced they’ll be implementing some tough new discipline policies to try and combat the trend.

Helping to present the new policies during the Goshen school board meeting were Barry Younghans, principal of Goshen High School, and Jan Baker, principal of Goshen Junior High School.

“This is not a fun topic to talk about this evening, but we wanted to educate all of you on where Goshen Community Schools is at in terms of vaping, and what we’re doing about this crisis that’s not only happening here at Goshen Community Schools, but in Elkhart County, the state and nationwide,” Baker said.

According to Baker, a total of 69 incidents of drug possession and/or vaping usage have been recorded corporationwide through December of the current school year, with a majority of those incidents — 42 — involving vaping/e-cigarette violations.

That number is particularly distressing when compared to the past three school years, where the 2020-21 school year recorded a total of 60 violations of drug possession and/or vaping for the entire year, while the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years each recorded an average of about 30 violations total, Baker explained.

“So, this is the trend across the nation, but it’s also right here in Goshen,” she said.

TAKING STEPS

Speaking to what the school corporation is doing to try and curb the growing vaping/e-cigarette trend, Younghans noted that several new policies and practices will soon be implemented at both the junior high and high school levels.

“It’s a huge problem, and we need to get a handle on it,” Younghans said. “So, some things that we’re doing, we’re taking some steps.”

One such step involves putting two staff members in every restroom during all passing periods and before and after school at both the high school and junior high buildings.

“We want kids to feel safe when they go to the restrooms, when they’re using the restrooms,” Younghans said. “We want to make sure they’re safe, and that’s one way we can do that.”

Another planned step involves hosting class grade-level meetings once students return from their holiday break to educate them about the dangers of vaping.

“When we educate, we’re going to have GPD involved, Elkhart County Health involved, our Goshen Fire Department involved, our school nurses involved,” Younghans said. “We’ve tried to educate all along, but this will be an additional opportunity to try to get that taken care of.”

HARSHER PENALTIES

Rounding out the planned steps will be implementation of a number of new, harsher penalties for students caught possessing or using vaping/e-cigarette products while on school grounds.

“We have to send a stronger message,” Younghans told the board. “So, we’re going to do some additional steps when kids are caught with these products.”

According to the plan, students caught with a nicotine-containing product for the first time will face a three-day suspension and be required to take an online education class. Younghans noted that the three-day suspension can be reduced if the students complete the class in a timely manner.

For a second offense, students will be issued a $145 police-issued ticket, as well as a five-day suspension.

“We’re hoping we won’t have to do a lot of those, but we probably will,” Younghans said. “A third nicotine offense is a second ticket, and then a recommendation for expulsion.

“And again, we don’t want to be expelling kids for this,” he added. “Some of these kids are addicted. We’ve got to help them. But we’ve got to figure out how to do that, and one of the things we’ve got to do is get it out of the schools as much as we can.”

As for any student found to be in possession of a THC/marijuana product, Younghans said that will now be grounds for automatic expulsion, while students found to be selling any related paraphernalia will face automatic expulsion and arrest.

“We have some of that going on,” Younghans said. “We know that.”

A CALL TO PARENTS

According to Baker, vaping/e-cigarette companies are known to market directly to kids by offering many brightly colored, appealing products that are easy to transport/conceal, are relatively inexpensive, and that come in a variety of attractive flavors, such as berry and bubblegum.

“We talk to our 12- and 13-year-olds, and they say, ‘Well, it’s just vape. It’s just a vape, vapors,’” Baker said of her students. “They don’t understand that one of those vapes is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, 20 cigarettes.”

“The level of nicotine that they’re ingesting is much, much stronger than they would get through traditional cigarettes,” added GCS Superintendent Steven Hope, noting that the younger a student is exposed to nicotine, the greater the chance that they’ll eventually become addicted.

What’s more, Baker noted that many of the vaping/e-cigarette products confiscated from students actually belonged to their parents, making it all the more important for parents to be vigilant when it comes to the potential vaping habits of their children.

“Where we need help is from our parents, to look in those backpacks, to look into things that kids are bringing to school, and recognize what they’re looking at,” Baker said, noting that recognizing vaping/e-cigarette products can be tough, especially given the large variety of products offered and the fact that they change frequently.

“So, we need help from our parents as well,” she said.

As part of that effort, the school corporation will be hosting a special presentation on vaping/e-cigarettes for parents of school-age children from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Goshen Junior High School Media Center.

“All of our parents in our community are invited to attend this,” Baker said. “It is just a Q&A, and what to look for, and how to help our kids, and just to educate our parents on what to look for.”

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