By Garret Roberts
As schools continue to address ongoing issues with nicotine usage among teens, Montour High School has taken steps to offer alternatives to address nicotine addiction rather than punishing first-time offenders.
Montour school directors voted to approve the new rehabilitation option for families in the high school during the Aug. 18 board meeting. The program, which was created by the American Lung Association, offers an after-school program that will serve as an alternative to suspension for students.
“The American Lung Association approached us about considering this program for our students who are struggling with nicotine addiction,” said Todd Price, high school principal. “As we know, vaping is an epidemic in our society and among our teens, and our high school is no different than any high school in the world.”
According to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 2 million youth smokers voluntarily admitted to using tobacco, with actual numbers suspected to be much higher. Across the nation, 11.3% of all high school-aged teenagers and 2.8% of all middle school-aged children admitted to using nicotine, primarily through vaping devices and other e-cigarettes.
Under the previous policy at Montour High School, students found with vaping devices or cigarettes were subject to a three-day suspension and monetary punishments. As repeat offenses continued to occur, these punishments would grow larger and more expensive.
Despite these risks, the school board still found that students would attempt to smoke
while on the high school campus to satisfy nicotine cravings. Price said that 90% of students reported that they were aware of their addiction, but were unable to focus on classes due to the withdrawal symptoms.
To help battle this addiction among students, the administration looked for a way to better address this epidemic within their schools.
“We recognize that these students have not gotten into a fight, disrespected the teacher or brought drugs and alcohol into the school,” Price said. “They probably got caught, as they call it, ‘hitting their vape’ in the bathroom. They are addicted to nicotine, so they needed to go into the bathroom to satisfy that craving.
We’d like to take a more educational approach and try to reach out to these young people in a different way.”
Rather than suspending first-time offenders, the new program will offer a five-hour rehabilitation program that will take place after school.
Throughout the week, students would be asked to stay after school for an hour a day and learn the risks associated with the continued use of nicotine.
Additionally, the program offers tips on how to battlenicotine addiction for younger users.
At this time, the program will be offered at no cost to families at the high school level in the school district. If the program is successful, it may be expanded to students in the middle school as well.
Enrollment in the program will also remain a choice for parents, as suspension is still an option for families.
By offering this alternative to traditional punishment, Price says that the program will allow students to continue their education uninterrupted while getting the help needed to overcome addiction.
“It takes everybody being on the same page to help the kid overcome what they’re dealing with,” Price said.
“It’s a very serious issue in our society right now, especially with these young people, so when a kid gets in trouble for something like this we try to talk to them about how they’re harming themselves.”