PRHS Implements VapeEducate Program


Starting in October of 2021, students that have been caught vaping on campus have been able to opt in to an online educational program about vaping in order to reduce their suspension. This optional program was implemented by Palmer Ridge’s new principal, Dr. Frank, around October of 2021.

Students who are caught vaping on campus or found to possess vaping paraphernalia will normally face a three-day suspension beginning the following day. However, these students now have the option to return to school the next day to take an online course called VapeEducate and reduce their suspension to only one day.

Mr. Purdy, an Assistant Principal at Palmer Ridge, explained that VapeEducate is “a web-based instructional platform that we use to help students who have been caught with vape devices or e-cigarette devices to understand the health implications and the long-lasting impact of that behavior.”
VapeEducate was a useful tool at Dr. Frank’s previous school, which motivated him to introduce it at PRHS as well. “At my last school, in an effort to combat the vaping epidemic, we partnered with and purchased licenses to an online course through a company called VapeEducate … This company provides a really good online platform and it’s reasonably priced,” he said. “I found at my last school that it more than not led to positive change. Rather than only suspending the kid.”

Learning from mistakes is part of growing up, and we use VapeEducate as a means of working through that for kids.”

Mr. Purdy

Educational programs such as VapeEducate have been created in order to combat the “vaping epidemic,” as Dr. Frank refers to the problem, by informing people about the adverse health effects of vaping.
“I think there’s a misconception that because it’s vapor, it’s healthy relative to tobacco, which is simply not true. And so I think [there are] long-term health risks of nicotine and the vapor that you’re inhaling for your lungs, for your nervous system, for your blood pressure, and circulatory system … that’s the nature of that,” said Mr. Purdy.

While it is an increasing problem among teenagers, Dr. Frank hasn’t seen “an enormous problem with vapes here compared to other schools.” But of course, he still wanted to take action to address the problem because as vaping becomes more widespread and popular among the younger generation, schools are faced with deciding how to handle students found vaping on campus.

As an educator, Dr. Frank places an emphasis on the importance of restorative justice, the goal of which is to repair the overall harm of what was done. With VapeEducate, students are able to learn from their mistakes and hopefully feel motivated to adjust their behavior or habits. The goal is to move away from just relying on punishment to correct behavior, and instead making progress from the incident. “For every situation it’s a kid who we need to try to help,” said Dr. Frank.

The School’s Resource Officer (SRO), Cory Adkisson, who has been a police officer for eight years, started working at Palmer Ridge this school year. When asked to characterize the drug problem at PRHS, he said, “Here and there I’ve had to address it with various students, but as a whole, it’s been a very minor problem… It has not taken up much of my time so far.”

Officer Adkisson is able to speak to the legal side of the conversation about vaping and drugs at school. “Vaping, although there’s various laws that talk about [it], is not specifically a criminal offense…to be in possession of a vape when you’re a minor,” said Officer Adkisson. He explained that the reason for this is because criminalizing vaping underage may prevent minors from seeking the help they need if they are addicted. To be clear though, vaping on school campus is against school policy, and the school has full authority to impose punishments.

Rather than going to court as students might if they are found with drugs or alcohol, “if a kid gets caught with a vape, the school does that VapeEducate and gets parents involved, which is huge,” said Officer Adkisson.

As part of his job, Officer Adkission emphasizes how important education and relationship building is. “I also want to be there for the students, I want to build relationships with them so they get to know me and feel comfortable coming to me if they have problems. I am an accessible, trusted adult they can come to,” he said. Students have come to Officer Adkisson with problems both in and out of school, and he is able to provide advice and outside resources if needed.

When a student is found to be in possession of a vape pen or found to be vaping on campus, Mr. Purdy explains that “Our legal right to search is very different from a police officer’s. School officials operate under a legal principle called ‘in loco parentis’ which means what a reasonable parent might do in a situation. So if a reasonable parent suspects their child has something they shouldn’t, they would search the room or search their child’s belongings. We have a similar responsibility and right to do that. We don’t need a warrant or anything like that.”

After being discovered, students will typically be sent home early. Those who opt into the course will come back to school to complete it in the library, and it usually takes around four to six hours. Each lesson (which consists of articles and videos) includes a quiz/assessment, so students must achieve passing grades on the progress checks before being allowed to move on. The student must pass the course in order to have their suspension reduced.

About the VapeEducate course, Dr. Frank said that, “it’s incredibly robust, it covers a whole bunch of different areas.” The course includes in-depth information about e-cigarettes, vaping and Juuling, and emphasizes the fact that the long-term health impact of these products are still unknown. It covers topics from the addictiveness of nicotine to the dangers of the contents of a vape pen to the harmful effects of marijuana usage. The course also seeks to dispel the common myths of vaping such as, for example, that it is harmless compared to smoking cigarettes.

Vaping is something that has drastic health risks, and if we make kids aware of what those are, then we’re better serving those students in the future to make the right choice.”

Mr. Purdy

One student who took the course last semester said that “it does have potential.” The student felt that the course had some out-dated information regarding state drug use laws and about vaping in general. As we learn more about vaping and laws continue to change, the student said that a more modern course “would probably help.” Dr. Frank also mentioned that the course is still in need of some improvements and updates. “There’s some technical things, bugs, that have to be fixed and figured out,” he said.

Every student who has been offered the course has opted into it so far. In the case of a re-offense, VapeEducate is not offered again. “One or two [have reoffended]. I think anytime you implement a program, you’re still going to have one or two exceptions to the rule, but those are individual circumstances that then get dealt with on an individual basis,” said Mr. Purdy.

Dr. Frank expanded on this topic. “With a second offense, which hopefully we have less of, we then do the same thing but we [also] provide an intervention meeting with key people related to health and safety, the school, and the parents, and the child. And, that is the second phase for a reduction of a suspension if there’s a second case. At my previous school, it reduced the number of days of suspension in half because pretty much everybody takes the opportunity to take the course. So, it’s awesome for us just knowing that every kid who makes a mistake with a vape, or a poor choice, is now entering into a pretty robust learning opportunity.”

To the community, Mr. Purdy says that the VapeEducate course “is one step, it is not the only step. But I think that in terms of providing students and parents with the information of what the negative health impacts of vaping are, that is its primary purpose and one of many tools we could use to help curb that behavior from students.”

Officer Adkisson adds to this by saying, “After people complete that program, even if they choose to continue to vape, they’re going to have the stuff that they learned from that program in the back of their mind … that’s the hope.”