The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

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Admin Takes on Vaping, Western’s Most Commonplace Crime

The+bathrooms+perpetually+smell+like+the+signature+synthetic+flavors+that+vape+companies+boast
Credit: Opal Kendall
The bathrooms perpetually smell like the signature synthetic flavors that vape companies boast

Everyone at Western knows something about vaping. Even if you never see the act itself, the bathrooms always smell of that particular sweet vapor, an artificial imitation of bubblegum or tropical punch. Now, through the use of new technology, WAHS principal Sublette aims to deter both potential vapers and those who already are.

With national teen use of nicotine at over 12%, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s no surprise that vaping is one of the most pressing issues for WAHS students and staff. 

Not only is the purchase and possession of nicotine products illegal for minors in Virginia, the use of e-cigarettes also comes with negative health effects. Namely, according to the Center for Disease Control, nicotine can harm a teenager’s developing brain and affect their learning and attention. However, vaping is still relatively new, so the long-term effects are largely unknown. Even so, vaping diverts the primary purpose of schools by impairing education and causes long-term harm that has become a real concern for WAHS staff.

“It is an issue that school administrators, families, and even students who don’t vape have really spent a lot of energy and time worrying about,” said WAHS principal Sublette.

In fact, Jermaine Dyer, one of Western’s security staff members, estimated the number of current students at WAHS who have vaped at least once in the school building to be 50 or more.

In light of the national breadth of such a systemic issue, Western has opted to invest in new technology to mitigate vaping in schools. 

In November, Sublette installed vape detectors in the WAHS bathrooms. The $1,500 machines detect traces of nicotine vapor and notify administration and the security team, which includes two security staff members and a security coach. The staff then consults hallway cameras and waits for students to leave the bathrooms to determine potential culpability.

However, as with any new technology, administrators are facing issues with implementation. “[Students] go to the bathroom in groups… so it’s hard to differentiate who may be vaping,” Dyer said.

For example, senior Matthew May reported being searched by an administrator after using a bathroom in which other students were vaping. “I saw two people who were vaping in there while I was in the bathroom… I guess I was the first one to walk out,” May said.

Western’s large multi-stall bathrooms and imprecise, evolving technology continue to cause situations similar to May’s as administration works to develop an appropriate structure for disciplining vaping.  

At Albemarle High School, similar issues prompted a school-wide remodel of the bathrooms. Issued by principal Darah Bonham, the school knocked down the surrounding walls and extended the stalls to be floor-to-ceiling, creating single-person gender-neutral bathrooms out in the hallways equipped with vape detectors like Western’s. For AHS, the model seems to be working, with about a dozen vape detections within the first month of installation.

Sublette said that while she would not be opposed to a similar strategy if the situation warranted it, she and the other administrators, “wanted to pilot [the vape detectors], rather than wait to see if we’re going to get that type of bathroom renovation” from the county.

She added that privacy is also an issue when thinking about ways to address vaping. “Clearly, kids have their privacy. It’s a delicate balance… while we’re trying to respect the vast majority of kids who deserve that privacy, we’re very frustrated with some of the behavior that happens,” she said.

As Sublette implied, school bathrooms are a site of more problems than just vaping. “Vaping in the bathrooms is just a small percentage of what goes on in the bathroom. Usually, it’s just people doing elementary things like tearing stuff up… Nine times out of ten that’s why it’s closed—because something’s been broken down,” Dyer said.

Sublette added that there was even an unsuccessful attempt to destroy one of the vape detectors when it was installed. If a student did manage to destroy one, she said, “it would be a really serious consequence because they’re expensive… we would actually bring in the police if there was a situation with that level of vandalism.”

Although the vape detectors bring a myriad of consequences for both students who vape and those who vandalize them, Sublette and Dyer emphasized that their primary goal is helping the students who do vape. The vape detectors are a, “helpful thing that comes with a consequence, more than just a consequence. [Students] are getting something out of vaping, and we’re just trying to figure out what it is and how to help them,” Dyer said.

Now, Sublette plans to tackle the addiction problem that vaping may cause. Currently, she and the admin team are in the planning stage of the program, working with Kristen Davis, the Region 10 worker at Western, and Alanah Horning, WAHS mental health professional, to develop a program around spreading information about vaping. “We’ve gone after the discipline piece, and now we need to go after the addiction piece,” Sublette said.

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About the Contributors
Ika Gottlieb, Staff Writer
Ika, a sophomore at Western, is new to the journalism staff but looking forward to writing for the Western Hemisphere. Political issues interest her the most, but she finds that most topics are worth writing about. Outside of journalism, she is passionate about language in all its forms, both lingistically and creatively.
Opal Kendall, Editor-in-Chief
Opal is a senior in her fourth year in Journalism as a co-Editor-in-Chief. She enjoys writing news and opinion pieces. Within the school, she is President of We the People and Young Democrats. She is also a member of NEHS, Rho Kappa, and NHS. Outside of school, she can be found cooking, reading, doing stained glass or spending time with her friends and family.
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