YARMOUTH — About a dozen reports over the last month about students found vaping or in possession of vaping products on school grounds drove Superintendent Andrew Dolloff to send a letter to parents last week.
And Yarmouth isn’t unique. Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth schools have also seen a rise in vaping.
The notice from Dolloff informed parents and guardians of a recent increase in incidents and provided resources that will “help parents better understand the history, dangers, and research regarding vaping.”
Vape pens, also known as E-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems, can contain THC– the active ingredient in marijuana – as well as nicotine. According to healthychildren.org, vaping is not a safe or healthy alternative to cigarette smoking.
Falmouth Superintendent of Schools Geoff Bruno said in a Dec. 11 email that “vaping among our teenagers, whether it happens on school grounds or off, is becoming more prevalent and is of considerable concern to all of us.”
Bruno added that as incidents have increased at both the middle and high school, efforts to educate and communicate with students and families have intensified.
Dolloff said on Dec. 11 that the concern was raised in Yarmouth by school administrators at both the high school and middle school.
“They felt that it had risen to the level that we should notify all parents (that) this is a new phenomenon. It’s new paraphernalia,” Dolloff said. “We wanted to nip it in the bud.”
He added that the issue isn’t “rampant or widespread.”
“Any time we have a handful of incidents with any type of a discipline situation, because by-and-large students make good decisions with our schools, it becomes a little bit easier to focus on an area of a problem,” Dolloff said.
Most frequently, students are found vaping in bathrooms and “wherever else they can find privacy.”
Because vape pens allow the user to ingest chemicals without the “tell-tale smoke and odor that accompany traditional smoking,” Dolloff said they have been difficult to detect. Additionally, newer products don’t resemble anything that traditionally delivers nicotine or THC.
“Some look like thumb drives, or a small radio, or a pen,” Dolloff said. His letter asked that, if their children are found with these products, parents “assist (the) school leaders as they provide proper disciplinary consequences and support services to help these teenagers get back onto the path toward a healthy lifestyle.”
According to Dolloff, the administration has struggled with how to discipline students found with vaping products because it is impossible to tell if they contain nicotine or THC without a test.
“We’re looking to adjust our policies because it used to be clear if a student was in possession of tobacco (and) that was a different level of discipline than if they were in possession of a drug, such as THC,” Dolloff said. “That’s leading to some confusion and consternation on our part.”
The letter said students found in possession of vape paraphernalia will face suspension, referral to legal authorities, and loss of co-curricular opportunities. Students will also have the opportunity to be reinstated to school and activities following suspension by participating in school-based, non-clinical substance use assessment and education process.
“Whatever they’re in possession of, the first step will be to get them some help,” Dolloff said. “They shouldn’t be doing this, and education is first for us.”
School officials say the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices by students is an increasing problem.