Cassia County School District is taking measures to prevent vaping in schools

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BURLEY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —According to the Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey frequent vaping use amongst teens seems to be on the rise in the Gem State. It went from 14 percent in 2017, to about 21 percent in 2019. However, one school district in the Magic Valley is taking measures to mitigate the use of it in their schools.

Vaping is the number reason for student suspension in the Cassia County School District. Burley Junior High School principal Steven Copmann said his school has already had 10 incidences this year, compared to about 15 all of last year.

“We have junior high 7th and 8th-grade kids that are addicted that started younger obviously,” said Copmann. “There are kids that want to be part of something. In junior high, it is the toughest part of your life. They want to be cool.”

He said vaping on school grounds can lead to a three-day suspension for a student and a citation, ranging from an $80 fine to $250 if they are sharing it with a friend.

“Every kid we talk to we say the suspension, the citation those are big things, but the biggest thing is your health. Do a little research on what vaping does to your lungs. The permanent damage,” said Copmann. “we are in it for the health end of it.”

According to the CDC vaping issue can cause a list of health issues for developing teens like severe lung damage. SCPHD Health Education Specialist Cody Orchard said the Juul device and the disposables can have an equivalent to 40 to 60 cigarettes worth of nicotine in one device, and the amount of nicotine teens are inhaling is a very large amount which can be problematic as far as addiction. Teens who become addicted can develop learning issues

“They start going through withdrawal symptoms, anger issues. lack of concentration. We have seen teenagers held back because of this. Even their grades drop,” said Orchard.

Copmann and Orchard said when teens are vaping in school it is sometimes hard to catch them, as some vaping devices look like everyday things kids bring to school, like USB devices, pens, keychains, and lipstick.

“They have vapes that are at the end of strings that look like hoodies,” said Copmann. “They have vapes that look like a smartwatch.”

To address the issue the Cassia County School District is starting the process of purchasing devices for their middle school and high school bathrooms and locker rooms that can detect vaping.

“What these detectors are actually picking up is the chemicals, and they are sensitive enough to know whether it is THC or if it is just a regular vape,” said Cassia County School District fiscal manager Chris James. “It can tell the difference between Ax Body Spray, perfumes, colognes, and that kind of stuff.”

James said they are still in the process of determining how many they need and installation is off for a while. However, the Halo detectors they are looking at are estimated to cost around $1,000 each. Right now they are just focusing on bathrooms and locker rooms because they are known for being places where bullying and bad behavior take place with teens.

“The reason being we just want to create a safe environment. Bathrooms are a difficult place to monitor because you can’t see what is going on in there,” said James. “So this just gives a little bit of protection.”

The devices have no cameras or recording devices in them, but staff will be alerted when vaping is detected.

“It sends immediate messages to our cell phones, and we can go in and catch them in the act,” Copmann said.

Orchard the hardest part for the schools will be when teenagers find out detectors are in the bathrooms because the kids will then go and find another location to vape. However, he does think the detectors will have a positive impact on the schools.

Copmann said he knows the devices won’t stop vaping entirely in schools, especially for kids who are already addicted to vaping. They will just find another place to vape. However, the detectors will hopefully prevent other kids who are not frequent users from being peer pressured or exposed to it in school.

“My excitement is it is another way we can deter kids from making bad choices that have long-term [health] effects,” Copmann said.

James said the vaping detectors will be paid for with COVID money the school district received, and the Halo detectors they are looking at purchasing are also sensitive enough to pick up loud sounds like a gunshot or fight. The district feels the detectors will be useful in deterring bullying and destructive behavior that is associated with things like TikTok school challenges.