Following a visit to several Cape Cod schools, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) administration is considering ways to stem the surge of vaping addiction among students.
During a Monday MVRHS school committee meeting, Assistant Principal Jeremy Light said he and several other members of the school administration paid a visit to some off-Island schools with the goal of gaining new insight as to how other districts are revamping their policies and their student handbooks. “We aren’t approving these right now — over the summer we are going to work on some of these updates,” Light said. He said school advisory councils from each district should meet and discuss potential changes to the handbook before the start of the next school year.
Light and the group of administrators visited Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, Nauset Regional High School, and Monomoy Regional High School, and met with administrators and teachers there. “Looking at the challenges that they are going through discipline-wise,” Light said, “when we debriefed that day, one thing that stuck out was that vaping is still a problem.”
He said vaping is still plaguing the MVRHS community, with 15 students this past year having been disciplined for the first time for vaping on school grounds.
As the school looks at things to change in the handbook, Light suggested making the one to three days of mandatory out-of-school suspension “more of an education process.” One thing Light suggested as an important change was to take first-time nicotine vaping infractions that would normally mean students being sent home and require that they stay in school and receive wraparound services. “We would like to bring in an outside instructor and do a course on vaping,” Light said. “Really just encouraging kids to make healthier and more responsible choices.”
Light said MVRHS student intervention coordinator Sheryl Taylor has been investigating an educational program for those who are dealing with vaping and nicotine addiction — a six-week online program that students could participate in during flex time or extra in-school time. “They would still have the MIAA (Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association) infraction if they are an athlete, they would still have the ‘not-in-good-standing,’ but we are just looking to keep kids in school,” Light said.
Additionally, students would still be required to meet with a school adjustment counselor, and would have the option for ongoing recovery coaching. Light said any recovery coaching requires a signed waiver from parents, and stressed that about 90 percent of students who engage in recovery coaching stick with it for the long term.
Taylor said another element of student discipline that should be codified in the MVRHS handbook is how to respond to offensive or hateful language. “We realized that based on a couple incidents that happened last year, we didn’t have any language in the guidebook as far as the Office of Civil Rights in terms of hate speech, racial or otherwise,” Taylor said. She said she isn’t entirely sure what the language would be or what part of the handbook should be added to or amended, but that keeping education as a central part of any disciplinary action is essential.
Committee member Kris O’Brien said she is happy to hear about the recovery component in some of the suggestions. “The addiction to nicotine is real, it’s visceral, it’s nasty, it’s vicious,” O’Brien said. “I have had someone in my family terribly addicted to nicotine all throughout her high school career … Her lungs are still suffering.” O’Brien said she hopes the school can look at these issues through the lens of addiction, and compassion for those who are struggling.
Committee member Kathryn Shertzer agreed that sending kids home for vaping infractions doesn’t serve them well, even for a short time. Particularly with parents being at work and unable to support their children who are at home for OSS, Shertzer said she would rather see students come back into the building and be supported with the proper services.
“I think the recovery coaching is a very vital component to the whole process. Any voice that can be a positive voice in [a student’s] life other than their parents is great, because we all know kids don’t necessarily listen to their parents,” Shertzer said.
Community member and mother Beka El-Deiry said three years ago a group of parents came to the school committee requesting some kind of “first strike rule” that would reduce the stigma for students who are caught vaping. Committee chair Amy Houghton said any changes to the handbook should be filtered through the School Advisory Councils (SAC) before being implemented. In August, Houghton said Island SACs will meet to discuss some of the proposed changes before the next school year begins.