WILMINGTON — The newly formed Vaping Committee presented their work and their findings to the Wilmington School Committee at its meeting on May 8. The presentation was led by Christine Murray, coordinator of Behavior Health and Social and Emotional Support. Also in attendance at the meeting were Middle School Assistant Principal Jeanette Quirk, high school Assistant Principal Christopher Phillips, high school student representatives Jocelyn White and Patrick O’Mahony, and Wilmington Health and Recovery Coordinator Samantha Reif.
The Vaping Committee seeks to change language in the high school student handbook in order to more accurately and specifically address the massive popularity of vaping among young people. According to Murray, the committee was formed in January and has met once a week since then.
Murray noted that the committee had discussed both changes in regulations and diversionary programs and educations to better reach students.
“Instead of putting this infraction on them, how can we educate them on the seriousness of vaping,” she explained.
The committee members noted both the ubiquity of vaping devices in the schools, and the effect that the presence of such devices has had on the general school environment.
“It started out as these big giant vapes that had nicotine oil in them, now it’s little tiny juuls that have marijuana, THC in them, and it’s impossible to tell the difference unless something’s actually written on the device,” said Phillips.
He noted that school administrators have had to close off some bathrooms in order to better monitor student activity.
In addition to changes in rules and educational outreach, Reif described the Wilmington E-Cigarette Education and Policy Initiative. This involved an application for a CHNA 15 2019 grant, designated for projects related to student behavior health. The application proposal included increase vaping awareness, further investigating and developing diversionary programming and resources, and investigating alternate modes of detection.
“It’s just another way that we’re kind of able to collaborate with the schools and on the community level to… make sure everyone’s on the same page and getting wrapped around supports,” said Reif.
School Committee Vice Chair Steve Bjork noted both the importance of the work and its inherent challenges.
“This is such a huge concern, and I know you have your work cut out for you,” said Bjork.
“I appreciate all the work you guys are doing on this,” he added.
School Committee member Jay Samaha added that the diversionary programs would be a good way to reach students, rather than immediately moving to a more traditional punishment.
“That’s really where you’re going to make the most difference,” said Samaha (with reference to these educational programs).
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Glenn Brand noted that the proposed policy changes had been run by the attorney associated with the school department, and that there were no apparent issues or contradictions that would preclude its inclusion in school handbooks.
“This certainly to me transcends just an update to a code of conduct,” said Brand. “This is very hard-hitting and this has significant consequences potentially in terms of its impact on students and families.”