Recently implemented programs and procedures intended to help quell vaping among students have earned Olentangy Schools an A-plus score from the Ohio Department of Health.
The score indicates that the district’s anti-tobacco policy meets the department’s standards.
Recent measures taken by the district include a stricter disciplinary policy regarding vaping and the installation of vape detectors in all restrooms in each of the district’s four high schools. Such devices have proven effective in detecting vape fumes and sending immediate alerts to administrators.
Allisha Berendts, the district’s assistant director of student well-being, said those intervention efforts are coupled with education and awareness initiatives throughout the district.
“Hopefully, the more prevention we do, the less intervention that’s needed,” Berendts said.
The district includes anti-vaping and anti-tobacco curricula in high school and middle school health classes, along with presentations at the elementary level, said Katherine Branson, coordinator of student well-being.
She also pointed to targeted training for school nurses as an important step in identifying vape users.
Olentangy’s enhanced disciplinary policies, requiring students caught in possession of e-cigarettes, tobacco or vaping devices to receive a three-day, out-of-school suspension, include the opportunity to reduce punishment by participating in the American Lung Association’s INDEPTH program, led by Olentangy teachers.
INDEPTH is an acronym for the association’s Intervention for Nicotine Dependence: Education, Prevention, Tobacco and Health program.
“One of the targets of that program is to help students identify triggers for their vaping and to offer other suggestions for coping,” Berendts said.
“We do a lot of dialogue, a lot of talking about both the reasons for vaping but also things like the cost, how much students are paying for vaping,” said Mark Nori, who leads the INDEPTH program at Berlin High School.
“I decided to take it to limit my suspension, but I also learned a lot,” said Berlin sophomore Moses Murphy. “I’ve definitely changed my behaviors where I haven’t done vaping since and will even talk to my friends about it.”
Murphy said vaping is widespread among students and that he started vaping because of “peer pressure.”
“I just wanted to know what it was like because I knew people that were doing it,” he said. “I ended up doing it more, and I got caught at school.”
“Not everybody’s going to stop, but the byproduct is that they can become aware of other things in their life that might be an underlying problem,” Nori said.
That’s important in this time of pandemic, Berendts said.
“Mental health is always a focus, but people may be looking for ways to cope with some of the additional separation that comes with (COVID-19),” she said.
“If we look at students’ overall health and well-being, hopefully, we can not only try and prevent vaping but (also) other high-risk behaviors,” Branson said.
The district also participates in the Youth Vaping Task Force of the Delaware General Health District.
The task force, created in 2019 with support from an Ohio Department of Health grant, includes representation from health-care, school, government, business and other communities, said Jamaica Harper, a community-health specialist with the health district.
“We’re providing resources and education but also trying to learn as much as we can by bringing these different areas together to try and improve vape prevention,” Harper said. “We want to continue to grow these efforts.”
Berendts said the key is to make anti-vaping efforts relational and not simply punitive.
“When students do make these choices, we want them to know there’s a support system in place,” she said.
Melanie Amato, press secretary for the Ohio Department of Health, said the department reaches out to the state’s school districts twice a year to assess their anti-tobacco policies. Districts are not required but are encouraged to adopt a 100% tobacco-free policy, she said.
The recent updates to Olentangy’s policy earned the district the A-plus score, she said.
“I am proud of the work that has been done in this area and the recognition of our efforts and investment by the Ohio Department of Health,” school board president Mindy Patrick.