The Russell County Board of Education approved new student conduct policies on Wednesday that aim to increase penalties for student vaping in the schools.
The new policy puts in place a three-day suspension on first offense for students found to be in possession of tobacco products on school grounds, which includes vaping products. Second offense would be a four-day suspension and third offense would be a 5-day suspension.
This policy would begin Monday, April 11 as students return from spring break.
Any subsequent offenses would result in more aggressive disciplinary action, including alternative school placement.
Students would also be required to complete informational packets about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine products.
The suspensions would also remove students from extracurricular and athletic events and activities. This would also include popular events such as prom.
Ford said that nobody in the school system wants to see students be taken out of school, but such violations cause a significant safety risk.
Superintendent Michael Ford, RCHS Principal Shanna Tarter, and RCMS Principal Wayne Ackerman released a letter to parents stating that Russell County Schools, like other schools across the state and nation, have seen an increase in vaping-related incidents.
The high school and middle school are the schools where this has been the most issue. There have been a few isolated incidents at the elementary schools, but that typically is a situation where a student grabs one from a parent and brings it to school.
Ford, Tarter, and Ackerman said the new policy is a proactive action to ensure the safety and well-being of Russell County students. School officials are concerned about the possibility of vapes being laced with drugs like fentanyl or other substances that could be a safety concern, an issue that has reportedly arisen in some neighboring counties.
“We’ve been blessed that it hasn’t happened here, but it’s happened other places, and we’re not exempt,” Russell County Schools Safety Director Jackie Grider said.
Grider said some of the vaping devices already contain cannabis, specifically pulling out one that was confiscated that stated on the back of the package that cannabis was in the device.
And the sharing of the vapes among students has had some potentially scary outcomes for students when they’ve had adverse reactions to them.
Tarter said there was a recent issue with a student having a seizure-like episode on a bus after using a vape that was given to them. The student reportedly had to be taken to the hospital where they stayed for about three hours, Tarter said.
Another incident occurred at the high school where a student had to be taken from the school to the hospital, Tarter said.
Dealing with the vaping issue among children is a community issue, school officials say, with support needed from all areas of the community.
School officials say students have reported buying vaping devices at local businesses, although the minimum age to purchase the products is 21.
“We need the support of everyone around us,” Ford said. “We need support from local businesses and I’ve had some reach out to let me know they’re doing things right and asking for IDs. We just need the support of those around us on on this.”