High School principal develops strategy to tackle students vaping in school

MILFORD – More and more teens are trying e-cigarettes these days and it's a trend many schools around the nation are looking to stop.

One of those is Jonathan Law High School in Milford. The situation has gotten so bad, the principal said he has had to limit bathroom use to some of the students.

Behind every door at the high school is a classroom of eager students and their teachers, but behind the bathroom doors is a bad habit waiting to happen.

“Kids were congregating in the bathrooms, so we’d have kids in a stall, 5 or 6 kids at a time in a stall. This is a nationwide epidemic,” said Principal Francis Thompson.

Thompson has been the principal for almost ten years and has seen a lot. However, teens becoming addicted to e-cigarettes is something he doesn't want to keep seeing.

“For the company to say 'we’re not marketing for high school kids or teenagers' is just not true. The design is marketed that way,” added Thompson.

An e-cigarette is a handheld electronic device that is meant to make a person feel like they are smoking a regular cigarette. The person inhales a heated liquid called a vapor, the common term known as vaping.

One vaping device called Juul looks like a USB flash drive, a discreet way for students to bring it to class.

High School senior Austin Danville said he sees it all the time.

“I guess it looks like a hard drive but like it’s not smart to bring into class. The teachers know now, it’s not new,” said Danville.

Teachers have been noticing students missing class to go to the bathroom.

“They would get a pass to go to the bathroom and instead of a 5-minute trip and then back to class, they’d be out for 20 minutes," said Thompson.

So, Thompson came up with a strategy. He locked certain bathrooms and came up with sign in and sign out sheets as a way for him to detect a pattern on when students would go vaping.

“I want kids to know that what they’re doing isn’t about getting caught but about what they’re doing to their bodies long-term down the road. That’s where the education piece comes in."

Thompson keeps a yellow envelope in his desk drawer and it is full of e-cigarettes he has confiscated from students.

Commonly known to contain nicotine, recent studies show teens are now using it to smoke marijuana.

According to a school-based survey, nearly 1 in 11 students has used marijuana in e-cigarettes. Results published in a the Journal JAMA Pediatrics found more than two million middle and high school students have used the devices for pot.

William Contaxis, also a senior, said he knows acquaintances who vape frequently mainly for social status.

“I know a lot of the kids like to think that it’s cool or what a lot of the popular kid would do, so it’s a wave that everyone likes to hop on,” said Contaxis.

It is a wave that parents like Jose Cardoso is nervous about since he has two teenagers himself.

“My daughter’s friends were vaping and she had told me they got in trouble and so that’s my concern -- that maybe one day she’s going to want to try it,” said Cardoso of Milford.

Thompson wants to prevent that “one day” Cardoso is talking about.

“I would hate to lose a generation of kids while we’re waiting for the research."

Thompson said instead of punishing repeated offenders, he offers him counseling or sessions with health professionals. He has also conducted many informational sessions by inviting the public to openly talk about this.