Higley Unified Governing Board

Higley Unified Governing Board earlier this month heard recommendations for new approaches to curbing the epidemic of vaping in district schools.

Locks, cameras outside bathrooms and a text number for anonymous reporting are some measures underway at two Higley high schools to combat vaping.

Higley and Williams Field high schools have already implemented a number of preventative actions and Higley Unified School District also has taken steps, the district Governing Board heard last week.

“The numbers have grown with access to vape pens,” Higley High Principal Alan Fields said, adding the number for repeat offenders was quite low.

Overall, officials this year are seeing a reduction of students caught vaping compared with last academic year.

Data from Williams Field showed 15 students nabbed in 2016-17 for a tobacco violation; 60 in 2017-18; 54 in 2018-19 and 15 so far this year.

At Higley, 21 students were caught in 2016-17; 77 in 2017-18; 70 in 2018-19 and 20 so far this year. Higley has about 1,640 students and Williams Field about 1,750.

Both Fields and Williams Field Principal Steve Tannenbaum attributed measures in place for the drop.

Fields cited bathroom sweeps between classes, hallway-specific passes, not allowing students to go to the bathroom the first and last 10 minutes of class and allowing students to go to the bathroom one at a time has helped.

Students also are not allowed to loiter in the bathrooms. While Williams Field has the ability to lock its bathrooms, Higley currently does not – but is working with the district to fix that, Fields added. He said the idea behind bathroom locks was to limit the number of unsupervised areas.

The district’s preventative measures include public service announcements, parent resources and information on its webpage and presentations to parents by representatives of the State Attorney General.

Interventions in place include anonymous reporting on a safe hotline or email to administration about students seen vaping. 

For those who are caught with a first offense, a school resource office is involved, counseling is offered. A police citation is issued for the next offense.

Citations used to be handed out for the first violation but they inundated the police department, Higley officials said.

“With a campus as large as ours, it’s a very small percentage of the population, .07 percent of our student population, although it is out there,” Tannenbaum said of on-campus vaping. “Nine-nine percent of our students are doing the right thing, making the right choice.”

Board member Kristina Reese said she was happy to see the drop but couldn’t help thinking it was because students got wise to what administrators are doing.

“I think they got ahead of us,” she said. “Some of the preventative stuff you are doing is working but I’m hearing from students they are beating the system. I think they caught on to something and they changed their behavior to where they are not getting caught. I hear from a lot of students that it’s still happening.”

Tannenbaum responded, “I agree, there’s always going to be cat-and-mouse games.

“We take the approach we are assuming our kids are vaping and (also) assuming they are making the right choice,” he added. “Yes, we try to stay ahead of it.”

 Board member Greg Wojtovich said he also knows vaping was still taking place on campus and that administration needed to try to keep a step ahead.

Board member Jill Wilson asked how parents respond when notified their teens were caught vaping.

 “There’s a wide variety of reactions –from they had no idea their student was involved with vaping to identifying it but don’t know what to do,” Fields said “That is where the free counseling comes in.”

Jennifer Corry, Student Services director, said now with new information coming out about the dangers of vaping, parents are more supportive.

Since Feb. 4, a total of 2,758 people have been hospitalized and 54 have died from a mysterious lung disease related with vaping or smoking electronic cigarettes or other electronic devices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study released last year from the National Institute of Health showed vaping was increasing among teens, who are attracted to the numerous fruit and candy flavors.

Other future endeavors include allowing students to report a violator through anonymous texting.

Fields said Higley officials are in the process of rolling out the text number but that it must be done right or they’ll end up with a lot of false reports.

The schools also are working on putting cameras outside of bathrooms.

“Sometimes you detect (vaping) odor but you don’t know who was in the bathroom,” Fields said, adding the cameras would help identify the violator in that situation.

Higley also is working with Williams Field on possibly changing the three-day, out-of-school suspension for a violation to in-school suspension or Saturday school for the first violation, according to Fields.

District spokeswoman Michelle Reese said one or the other measure or a combination of all three.

Wojtovich said Michigan banned flavored e-cigarettes and asked what was Arizona doing to address the problem.

“The vaping issue is a health issue, not just a school issue,” he said. “We are not selling the vaping products at the schools. Students are bringing them to school. Where are they getting it from? This is a community issue.”

Superintendent Dr. Mike Thomason said he’s met with state legislators and there are bills looking to get rid of flavored juices for vaping pens and raising the age for purchasing vape products.

Efforts to raise the age for buy vape products have run into opposition by enough lawmakers to stymie progress on that front.

Thomason said he also is working with the school district’s attorney about joining a class action suit against the manufacturers.

Reese after the meeting said she was unsure when the cameras, locks and anonymous text will be implemented.