A surge of vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths around the country has given new urgency to keeping electronic cigarette products out of middle and high schools, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District officials said.
But some Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District administrators and students said anti-vaping policies can be difficult to enforce.
“It shouldn’t be in schools, I agree, but I think that staff is not doing a great job enforcing that,” Yodahit Philipos, the Board of Education’s student representative, told the board earlier this month. “Kids still bring it, hide in the bathrooms, use it — so it really hasn’t changed.”
The district bans any student, teacher, administrator or other personnel or visitor from smoking or using tobacco and tobacco-related devices, among other rules. The board this month voted to broaden the ban to include a variety of vaping devices and to also bar anyone from even carrying the devices on school property.
Director of Human Resources Stacey Sovine told the board updating the policy can help keep up with smoking technology and also implement recommendations from the Minnesota School Boards Association.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week counted over 800 cases of lung injury and 12 deaths related to use of vaping devices. Sixteen percent of the cases were reported in people under 18 years old.
Medical experts and health officials have yet to determine an exact cause of the illnesses, Irina Stepanov, an associate professor with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said in news release from the university this month. Researchers are looking at the chemical composition of e-cigarette aerosols, including a wide variety of unregulated liquids.
Officials from states around the country are placing temporary bans on the sale of certain vaping products, but Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said this week that state laws ban him from doing the same, according to MPR News.
Board Chairwoman Abigail Alt questioned how easily the policy can be enforced and wondered how school staff would find out a student is carrying vaping products at school.
Superintendent Brian Gersich said an administrator would most likely catch a student using the device or finding the device during a lawful search.
“A lot of times it’s during those searches that a lot of other kinds of devices that you may not have been originally looking for come out,” he said. “It’s a matter of saying it’s in policy and if we find these things we don’t want them here.”
Boardmember DeeDee Currier said she hopes news of vaping-related lung illness will change that, and she encouraged high school teachers and administrators to have more conversations with students.
Erika Nesvig, principal at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Savage, said vaping is also a concern in middle schools.
“It’s hard for us because I really feel like, the way it’s set up, kids are going to want to do it,” she said. “It’s very appealing to kids.”
Nesvig said there are fewer instances of students using vaping devices at the middle schools; more often students tell a staff member their friend is using the products outside of school.
“That’s not to say it never happens at the middle schools, because it does,” she said, adding the devices pose a particular challenge to administrators and parents because they carry no smell and often resemble other small objects.
She said they focus on making it a learning experience when they do run into vaping. Sometimes they have students read about the practice or complete a small project about what they learned.
“It’s not punishment but a learning experience,” she said.
Students learn about smoking products in seventh-grade health class, but school staff are also looking for ways to educate parents.
“A lot of parents don’t have any idea what to look for, and that’s a part of the challenge, too,” Nesvig said.
There’s currently no school-wide effort to address the issue, she said, but it’s something they are looking to add.