by Kate Evans
At the January 23 Morgan County School Board meeting, a parent of a Berkeley Springs High School students raised concerns about students vaping in the high school bathrooms.
Parent Sean Bartley said his daughter calls him every single time about not being able to use the restroom because students are inside it vaping. She tells them, “I need to use the restroom. Can you leave so I can use it?”
Bartley noted that his daughter is a Teen Court member and is familiar with the vaping process. Around 50% of Teen Court cases early this year were vape cases.
Bartley said he’s talked to the high school principal, the new Prevention Resource Officer, the Morgan County Sheriff and the Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney about the problem.
He said the prosecutor told him the high school is in charge of monitoring the bathrooms. The sheriff said they don’t have the resources to deal with it.
Bartley said he was told that the high school was getting sensors for the restrooms, but the sensors apparently need adjustments.
Bartley offered to sit outside the restroom to monitor it for vaping and said he was willing to organize other parents to take shifts to watch the bathrooms.
Bartley wondered if teachers could take turns sitting outside the restroom at a table and work there. He also asked if kids could lose high school privileges like parking privileges or not being permitted to attend a football game for vaping.
Bartley said he has reached out to everyone and just wants the problem stopped.
Disciplinary referrals for vaping this year have more than doubled from the number during last school year, said Berkeley Springs High School Principal Mitch Nida on Monday.
Nida said his staff is “doing what they can” but they also need the help of parents, guardians and the community because students have easy access to vaping devices and associated substances.
Vaping devices and pods cannot legally be sold to anyone under the age of 21.
Berkeley Springs High School Mitch Nida said his school had 30 referrals for vaping during the entire 2022-2023 school year. This year the school has already had 40 vaping referrals and they’re just through half the school year. Nida said the vaping incidents involve all grades and both male and female students.
The high school campus is unusual as it has four different buildings and a total of nine bathrooms, Nida said. The buildings each have upstairs and downstairs bathrooms.
Sensors have been placed inside all of the restrooms along with cameras installed outside of the restrooms. The sensors send an alert if something registers as a vape. Nida said that the sensors are helping.
Occasionally there are issues with the sensors, but they usually work. The camera surveillance also helps but they have to figure things out from there, he said.
Students sometimes alert teachers and administrators that there may have been vaping happening in a restroom at a certain time. They don’t usually give us names, he said.
If students are caught vaping, the consequences on the school side could be 1-5 days of in-school suspension or a minimum of three days of out-of-school suspension. The total number of days of out-of-school suspension would depend on the number of the student’s infractions or the seriousness of their infractions, Nida said.
The high school also requires that a student who is caught vaping take a four-week long after-school vaping education class that’s run by the Morgan County Partnership.
As of now, 30 kids have been in the vape class, he said. Nida thought the class is definitely helping. It includes research on the dangers of vaping and a plan for each student to continue without vaping.
The high school health class also has a program that teaches kids about the dangers of vaping, Nida said.
Nida said that two teachers are posted outside the downstairs Building A bathrooms before school starts and during lunchtime to monitor them because that’s where a majority of student traffic is then.
Teachers who have classrooms near restrooms have been asked to pop in and out of them during the day for random checks. Administrators are also doing random bathroom checks.
Students have lots of high school privileges and incentives that they can be taken away depending on how many infractions they’ve accumulated and the seriousness of the infractions, Nida said. The parking privilege is the main one that kids don’t want to lose.
Other privileges include the finals incentive where kids could get out of taking some of their final exams or the senior incentive where students can leave school during lunch break.
Nida said the serious issue is where and how students getting the vapes and how easily accessible these vapes are to students.
Nationwide no one under the age of 21 can legally use vaping products. It is illegal for anyone of any age to have vaping products on school grounds.
“We can’t stop them from obtaining them. This is a bigger issue. We need the support of parents, guardians and the community,” Nida stressed, regarding student vape access.
The high school did buy a metal detector wand to use whenever they have to search a student, Nida said. In the near future they will also have a K-9 unit come in and do a random search.