Administrators revamp vaping policy in hope of change


Ridwan Oyebamiji

Sitting at his desk, Principal Jeremy Mitchell takes a call from a parent. During the summer, administrators got together to discuss changes that needed to be made. “There is still discipline enacted because you are still breaking a school expectation,” Mitchell said. “It’s just that the type of discipline will be one that will not only be disciplinary action but disciplinary action with a purpose.”

In response to the widespread vaping trend that continues to affect the school, administrators are taking a new approach to the issue by establishing a policy they hope will better prevent vaping on school grounds.

Although rules are already in place to discipline those who engage in the act, senior class principal Mario Pupillo felt further action needed to be taken.  

“We started getting contacted by a lot of different vendors [of vaping prevention programs]. We [saw] these pop up as possibilities, and it alerted us to their existence. We did a bit of research to see which company seemed like the right fit,” Pupillo said. “At the end of the day, we needed to try something different. We’ve been hearing that from students, and we’re hearing that from teachers, parents and ourselves.” 

In order to respond to the concerns of the community, administrators have updated the policy on disciplinary action that will debut this year. 

“Prior to this, the initial consequence if you get caught [is that we] we confiscate your vape. That has not changed. A parent is the only one who can pick that up. That has never happened. They always tell us to throw it in the trash. Then, you get a three-hour detention,” Pupillo said. “The second offense [is that we] we confiscate your vape again. Then it’s a day out of school suspension. So what we’ve changed this year is that instead of that [suspension], you now have this [five hour] VapeEducate program that you have to complete.”

The program consists of videos and short quizzes. It also prevents the student from fast-forwarding through the content to ensure accountability.

“I think the impact we’re hoping to see is fewer students vaping, specifically at school. We’d also obviously love for that to translate beyond to students who are not choosing that decision to vape,” Pupillo said. “Additionally, anybody that is vaping to the extent that they end up having to do that course, [we’re hoping] that the information in that course opens their eyes.”

Likewise, Principal Jeremy Mitchell loves the new route they are taking to fix the issue.

“When you give a student a detention or you remove them from school, our concern was that it wasn’t a direct correlation to the infraction that they got in trouble for,” Mitchell said. “Our hope is that if this is something that you’re doing, this will educate you hopefully not to do it anymore. We’re trying to have it directly correlate to the offense.”

This was not the only change Parkway made over the summer. According to Parkway Coordinator of Health Education Eddie Mattison, the district expanded the list of prohibited e-cigarettes to include different types of devices. This expansion was made in an effort to educate students about more than just the generic e-cigarette.

“Parkway was a leader in making this change in 2014 by adding e-cigarettes to the smoking policy,” Mattison said. “That leadership was taken to new heights in March of 2019 by adding in specific electronic devices such as restrictions on the use of tobacco products, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), e-pens, e-pipes, ‘vapes’, ‘vape pens’, ‘Juuling’, e-hookah, e-cigars and any item classified collectively as ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems). We have really benefited from this policy update in the Safe and Drug-Free Program. We now have a leg to stand on when teaching about e-cigs and Juuls in our middle school classrooms.” 

Additionally,  Pupillo hopes students understand the consequences of their actions and learn to make better choices for their bodies.  

“Our thinking was that it would be two-fold. [First], it’s a deterrent, hopefully, because students aren’t going to want to do that, so they’ll make a better choice to not vape. Also, they have to do it, so they’ll learn something from it,” Pupillo said. “One of the ideas was that we really don’t want students to miss educational time. If we’re suspending you for a full day, you’re obviously missing educational time. The hope with this process is that it’s done outside of school. We’re going to talk to parents [and] include them in the process.”

Pupillo feels the issue is widespread enough that a more constructive approach needed to be in place.

“Really, over the last couple of years, vaping has grown in popularity and been more of a problem at school. A lot of that is students reporting to us that it’s a problem. We had a group of students in an organized fashion that went to the school board,” Pupillo said. “We’ve heard from individual students repeatedly. Of course, we know it. We see it, smell it ourselves. It’s unavoidable at times, so the question was, ‘we all recognize that it’s a bigger problem, so how do we respond to it in a meaningful way that hopefully makes a difference in some students lives?’”