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School district looks to extinguish campus vaping

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Washoe’s Safe and Healthy Schools Commission shared data and suggestions on how to reduce vaping within schools during Tuesday’s Washoe County School District Board of Trustees meeting. 

During the 2022-23 school year, 543 “vaping events” were documented. During the first three months of this school year, more than 150 events have been documented, about half of which occurred in restrooms, followed by classroom use. 

The commission cited behavioral and health impacts to students caused by vaping, including effects on focus, mood swings and memory issues, worsening of anxiety and depression, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and respiratory and cardiovascular issues. Other issues reported are associated with the use of cannabis, which has been found in many of the confiscated vapes. 

Commission spokesperson Katherine Loudon said school administrators and instructors have also confiscated vapes that contained harder drugs, such as opiates like fentanyl. 

“We all know smoking in the bathroom is nothing new.”

The school district has policies against smoking and vaping on campuses and offers parent resources, school counseling services and age-appropriate education about the dangers of vaping. 

The commission presented a number of suggestions on how to continue tackling the issue of vaping within schools. These include revising policy, expanding prevention programs in schools, requiring health classes for middle schoolers, increasing teacher training, creating parent workshops and adding vape detectors. 

School Superintendent Susan Enfield said her office has already discussed the feasibility of installing vape detectors throughout the district’s middle and high schools. 

Trustee Colleen Westlake said she appreciated the commission and the district for treating the topic with the seriousness it deserves, but said she does not want to see suspensions for vaping. 

“I want to go in the opposite direction—I want them to have more school,” Westlake said. “Whatever happened to Saturday detentions?” 

Trustee Joe Rodriguez asked what successes there have been in the past in reducing tobacco use among students. 

Joe Rodriguez at a recent school board meeting. Eric Marks / This Is Reno.
Joe Rodriguez at a recent school board meeting. Eric Marks / This Is Reno.

“We all know smoking in the bathroom is nothing new,” Rodriguez said. 

“Supervision is the best strategy, as well as information and prevention,” Loudon said. 

She said that both youth and adult use of cigarettes has significantly decreased in recent years, thanks in part to education. Youth vaping, however, has increased.

Enfield said she supports revising policy but said she would also like to see a community-wide campaign for a “saturation effort” regarding the dangers of vaping. 

“This can’t just be a district-led communication strategy,” Enfield said. 

Trustee Diane Nicolet thanked the superintendent for the suggestion of a community approach and said she often sees teenagers in the community, such as at their jobs, vaping in public. 

“This is a community effort,” she said. “You have to embrace our workplaces so that we’re all doing this together. It will take a village.”

She said she wanted to see the education presented to younger students as well. 

Trustee Jeff Church said he thinks the vape detection devices are a waste of time and resources. 

“We have bigger eggs to fry,” Church said. “I think it’s a dead horse, and I can’t support it.”

Trustees voted to direct staff and the commission to begin work on a comprehensive prevention plan, including a cost analysis on vape detectors within middle and high schools. Church and Nicolet voted against the motion. Nicolet said she would like to see more specific language included in the motion.  

Single-point entry coming to three high schools 

Trustees voted to approve single-point entry pilot programs for McQueen, Damonte Ranch and Sparks high schools, along with recording devices at elementary and middle school front entrances. 

Single-point and secure perimeter installations have already been completed at all elementary and middle schools within the district. Hug and Incline high schools have also installed single-point entry. 

District staff and the Safe and Healthy Schools Commission worked with the district’s chief of police to explore options for phased implementations of single-point entries and secure perimeters. 

The McQueen, Sparks and Damonte Ranch pilot projects should be finished by the 2024-25 school year. 

Several trustees questioned why only these three schools were selected. 

“It’s a little frustrating that it takes this much time,” Rodriguez said. “It does keep me awake. I understand there’s a lot of heavy lifting to do.” 

Trustee Adam Mayberry said construction is “dragging” and he wants to see these projects completed. 

Trustees approved the pilot program, and estimates on costs will be brought back by staff. 

The new Proctor R. Hug High School that opened in 2022. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno
The new Proctor R. Hug High School that opened in 2022. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

In other items

Trustees approved a resolution recognizing and honoring veterans within the district, which include trustees Rodriguez, Church and Mayberry. A presentation was given on JROTC and the Silver State Brigade. The programs have 35 instructors who are either retired officers or non-commissioned officers, all with 20 or more years of active-duty experience and curriculum expertise. There are 11 programs with 1,854 cadets within the district, including eight Army schools, two Navy schools and one Air Force school.

Trustees signed a proclamation recognizing November 2023 as Native American Heritage Month. The school district serves nearly 3,000 students who identify as Native American, as well as 1,000 students within the Native American Culture and Education Program and has 113 tribes and nations represented within the district. A presentation was given on both the history of Native American Heritage Month, which began in 1990, as well as student programs within the district. 

Trustees recognized National Apprenticeship Week and the importance of Career and Technical Education in honor of the 86th anniversary of the National Apprenticeship Act. This year marks the ninth year of Apprenticeship Week and raises awareness of the “vital role apprenticeships provide in creating opportunities.” 

Trustees heard a presentation regarding the Department of Defense youth Starbase STEM program. The program is sponsored by the office of the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs and allows students to participate in “hands-on, mind-on” activities in aviation, science, technology, engineering, math and space exploration. The program provides students with 20-25 hours of experience at military bases throughout the nation. The primary focus is on 5th graders in Title 1 schools.

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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