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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

Vape rules ‘unfair’

Close to 50 students at Philemon Wright High are protesting the school’s vaping policy — namely the automatic, 10-day suspension that students are hit with, if they are caught vaping on school grounds.


A Grade 11 student from Chelsea, who wished to remain anonymous, started a petition against the school’s vaping policy, after one of his friends, who he calls a model student, was suspended for 10 days. According to him, his friend was caught vaping on school property last week.


Vaping is the inhaling of a vapour created by an electronic cigarette.


The Chelsea student, who started the petition, was also suspended for vaping at the beginning of the school year and said the school’s zero-tolerance policy, which forces kids to stay home for 10 days without the option of contacting teachers, is doing more harm than good.


“I don’t think really good people, such as my friend, deserve to be suspended for 10 days for anything,” they said.


In just five days, the Chelsea student has obtained close to 50 signatures from fellow students.


“[The suspension] doesn’t help with changing their behaviour, it just causes them to fall behind in school. This is especially hard for already struggling students,” they said.


He added that, when he was caught vaping in September, he spent 10 days wallowing in his own shame and missed key opportunities at school, including basketball tryouts, something his mother said “gutted him.”


“I’ve personally experienced this as well and all it did was make me think badly about myself and caused me to fall way behind in school,” said the student.


The student’s mother, whose name the Low Down has agreed to keep anonymous to protect the identity of her child, argued that vaping at school should be considered a health issue and that suspending kids from school won’t curb the pervasiveness of youth vaping.


Instead of a suspension, the mother said the school should use evidence-based awareness programs to educate students about the dangers of vaping. She called the current policy “draconian” and said she has seen “really, really good students” get suspended for vaping. The mother agreed that vaping is a major concern for her family and for youth in the Hills, but argued that the policy is hurting kids rather than helping them.


“It’s just really unfair,” said the mother. “So many kids have been hit with this. I’ve seen a number of students really fall into shame. They are locked up at home, they can’t even get access to their teachers or their school work, it puts them further behind. It just does so much damage.”


The school’s discipline policy states that: “A student distributing, consuming, or in possession of vaporizers or vaporizer products on or off school property during the school day will be suspended for 10 days.” What’s unclear about the policy is why there is a major discrepancy between smoking and vaping, as students caught smoking cigarettes on school grounds will only be sent home for three days.


Another student, who signed the petition to support their fellow students and also wished to remain anonymous, told the Low Down that the school even has an off-site park, where students are permitted to smoke cigarettes.


“For smoking, if you are caught on school property, it’s three days,” said the student. “But there is a park near Philemon and you can take a break and go to the park and they actually let you smoke. They have a supervisor, but if you get caught vaping at that same park, you get suspended for 10 days. It seems kind of odd, if you ask me, because it’s basically the same thing.”


The student said they signed the petition out of support for their fellow students and, while they have never been suspended for vaping themselves, they said they feel the policy is unfair.


The petition calls for a review of the school’s discipline policy and suggests a two-day, in-class suspension with “social-emotional learning programs” to replace the current 10-day suspension.


Staff at Philemon would not comment on the school’s discipline policy, as it is currently under review. The review process involves parents, students and staff, and principal Dodie Payne said parents can still provide input by contacting her directly.


According to Stats Canada’s most recent Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs survey from 2019, 20 per cent of students in Grades 7-12 reported using a vape within the last 30 days. According to the data, reducing stress was reported as the main reason for vaping among 15-19 year olds, with 33 per cent reporting stress as a factor, while 58 per cent of those aged 25 and older reported using vaping products to reduce, quit or avoid a return to smoking cigarettes.

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