School officials discuss vaping challenges

NASHUA — As nearly half of students in Nashua High Schools North and South admit to trying vaping, district officials continue examining ways to curtail use of the products.

“Fourth and fifth-graders are doing this too,” Board of Education member Susan Porter said. “If they learn it early on it becomes part of what they just know, so I think that part of the proactive measures here is to start (educating) early.”

Board members are discussing several measures to prevent Nashua students from vaping. In data provided recently by Nashua School District Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Donna Fitzpatrick, vaping is defined as “the action or practice of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.

Vapes, such as a Juul, are battery-operated devices that heat up and vaporize a liquid or solid. The electronic cigarette contains a small reservoir of liquid nicotine solution that is vaporized to form an aerosol mist, which is inhaled by the user.

According to the data on vaping incidents provided by Fitzpatrick, during the 2018-19 school year,

• Nashua High School North had 90 incidents involving 78 students (4.4 % of school population)

• Nashua High School South had 93 incidents involving 81 students (4.2 % of school population)

• Elm Street Middle School had 19 incidents involving 16 students (1.4 % of school population)

• Fairgrounds Middle School had 33 incidents involving 15 students (2.3 % of school population)

• Pennichuck Middle School had 21 incidents involving 19 students (2.5 % of school population)

Currently, vaping is listed as a Class III offense, defined as an offense that “usually occur(s) in the classroom or other less structured settings under the teacher’s supervision. Occasionally, the teacher will have to call on other people for assistance, but the responses at this level usually do not require the intervention of a building administrator.”

During a recent Policy Committee meeting, Fitzpatrick said school principals are treating vaping offenses as a higher infraction than what it is based on policy. Fitzpatrick said they are also taking measures beyond just disciplining students.

“Nashua Prevention Coalition does come in to make presentations at the schools. I also have been investigating a speaker who has spoken around the country who has a way of talking to kids that they are more likely to listen,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re continuing to come up with different ways to take kids around the dangers of vaping.”

Vaping has also been implemented into the health curriculum at both the middle and high school levels and addressed at athletic preseason meetings.

Fitzpatrick said she and representatives from Nashua Prevention Coalition have also begun discussing how to get information out to parents about vaping.

“Somebody on the committee talked about how her generation was the one who pushed their parents to stop smoking because they were the ones who were educated around cigarettes so they got their parents to quit, and we’re in a situation where kids know more about vaping and electronic cigarettes than their parents do,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said there is more than one agency working on this issue in Nashua. “Education and attacking this issue is happening on many fronts,” she added.

During the meeting Policy chair Ray Guarino suggested bringing policy JIC, Student Behavior Standards, back to the committee for review. Board member Dotty Oden also suggested moving vaping from a Class III offense to a Class II.

“It’s such a serious problem I think that students ought to be educated about the dangers,” Oden said.

Oden believes the percentage of students who vape is higher than what was presented in the data.

“These are only the students that were caught. It’s very hard to catch students vaping and the national number is over 20%. I can’t imagine that Nashua would be very different,” Oden said.

“I have been told by an administrator that it is very hard to catch the kids vaping and it has to do with the fact that much of it goes on in the bathroom, and that some students don’t want to go into the bathrooms because of all the vaping,” Oden added.

Fitzpatrick said often times reports of vaping come from other students.

Guarino believes the vaping statistics fall at some point in the range of 4.4 % and the national average of 20%.

“It’s difficult to get good data, especially with something like this when people don’t want you to know what they’re doing,” Guarino said.

“If you’ve ever seen these vaping (devices), this pen in my hand could be a vape and people wouldn’t even know it because they look like pens. They look like flash drives that you put in computers, so it’s very easy for kids to slip these in,” he added.

Board member Gloria Timmons pointed out the difficulty of knowing who exactly is vaping in the bathroom.

“Vaping creates this big cloud. You don’t know who’s doing it and we need to be conscious of that,” Timmons said.

As for other suggestions, board member Susan Porter said health curriculum on vaping needs to reach as many students as possible and suggested implementing some form of counseling such as what’s done at the middle school level at the elementary level.

Oden suggested instituting a Saturday program in which students who get caught vaping are educated on the harms and how addictive nicotine is. She also suggested having those students write an essay on the harms of vaping and said this might have more of an impact than just suspending the students.

Grace Pecci may be reached at 594-1243, or at gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.