Farmington schools deal with vapes and marijuana use

FARMINGTON — With the exception of August, the Farmington School Board has held at least one student expulsion hearing each month during the 2021-22 school year.

In most cases, the students were accused of using e-cigarettes loaded with marijuana or THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the chemical in marijuana that gives the user a high.

The board held separate hearings for 13 junior high students and nine high school students. All hearings were closed.

The board voted to expel three students and allow the remaining students to participate in the school district’s Second Chance program. This program requires students and parents to meet certain expectations. Otherwise, the student is expelled.

Special meeting minutes show the board held two eviction hearings on September 20, two hearings on October 4, one hearing on October 18, one hearing on November 22, two hearings on December 13, one hearing on Jan. February 24, four hearings on February 7, two hearings on February 28, two hearings on March 28, four hearings on April 25 and one hearing on May 23.

Terri Morris, principal of Farmington Junior High School, said her students’ expulsion hearings were because they used vapes with marijuana.

“Anytime you have discipline issues, that concerns me,” Morris said.

She said she came in as the new principal in July with a directive to work on the issue and that the school has tackled vaping and THC use from an educational perspective. The school sponsored anti-vaping and anti-drug assemblies and disseminated this information to parents.

“We got there from an educational perspective,” Morris said.

As an example, the school nurse sponsored an anti-vaping contest, providing the nurse with a “gateway” to talk to students about vaping, she said.

The school has adjusted its vaping policy. Instead of simply being suspended from school for vaping, students had to attend Saturday school and attend educational workshops. Those caught with vapes and marijuana had to appear before the school board for an expulsion hearing.

“We’ve seen some of the discipline issues go down significantly,” Morris said.

She plans to do another series of anti-vaping and anti-drug shows with parents next year so parents can talk to their kids about it. Other plans are also in place to help educate parents and students.

Morris said she fears not enough is being done to protect children from the dangers of vapes.

“You can buy it at gas stations. You can buy it on the internet,” she said.

Its objective is that parents are informed of the dangers and help to put an end to them in their children.

“We are dealing with the repercussions of his availability,” she said. “We want to help parents know what to look for.”

Morris said vape oil itself is highly addictive. She describes vaping as “shocking” and “horrible” and says she thinks anything the school can do to help students avoid the practice is valuable.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, e-cigarettes — also called vapes — heat nicotine extracted from tobacco with flavorings and other chemicals to create an aerosol that the user inhales. According to the John Hopkins website, regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, while it’s unclear how many chemicals are in e-cigarettes.

Jon Purifoy, principal of Farmington High, said his students’ expulsion hearings involved vaping and THC, but also other reasons.

“We had a few, but not as many as in college,” Purifoy said.

Like middle school, Purifoy said the high school tries to educate students about vaping and its effects, as well as the effects of alcohol and drugs. Posters and signs hang on the walls to inform children of the dangers, Purifoy said.

“They are fully aware of the issues,” Purifoy said. “You can do your best, but at that age they think they know everything. We try our best to work very hard for them to get an education.”

The Farmington Police Department has two School Resource Officers assigned to the school district. Jimmy Brotherton spends most of his time in college, and he said he works hand-in-hand with school officials when it comes to vaping marijuana.

In some cases, Brotherton said students were cited for possession of drug paraphernalia for vaping marijuana and sent to juvenile court.

When a student is found with a vape, Brotherton does a field test to see if it contains THC. Most of those that contain THC are called dab pens, he said. Sometimes a vape smells like marijuana, but not always, Brotherton said.

“Some you can’t smell because of their flavor,” he said.

Brotherton said one of his concerns with e-cigarettes is that they can be mixed with other chemicals, such as the opioid fentanyl, or something more potent.

Brotherton said he spoke to students during their health classes about drugs and distracted driving. Last year, the Sheriff’s Association held a Parents’ Night on Drugs.

Brotherton has just completed his fifth year as a school resource officer and he has seen the use of vapes increase among students. He said he thinks part of the increase is due to children wanting to experiment or being under peer pressure. Others use e-cigarettes because they believe they are not as harmful as smoking a cigarette, he added.

Again, Brotherton said, students will use vapes because of the flavors, which include cotton candy, bubblegum, fruit flavors and other candy flavors.

“We’re just trying to provide as much information as possible,” Brotherton said.

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