Volusia County Schools works to combat student vape use

Vape detectors, educational programs and disciplinary referrals: These are some of the ways Volusia County Schools is addressing vaping on school campuses.

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/lezinav
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/lezinav
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Volusia County Schools reported 521 referrals issued due to vapes from Jan. 1 to March 31.

This is an 80% increase from last year's number of referrals for the same time period, as 289 referrals for vapes were issued then. The increase in referrals — VCS staff said during a presentation at the Volusia County School Board workshop on Tuesday, June 11 — is a result of the district's "zero tolerance" policy, as administrators are following through with consequences for vaping, or being found in possession of vapes, on campus.

VCS Student Services Executive Director Mike Micallef said Superintendent Carmen Balgobin "did not wait to just watch our numbers continue to rise."

"She took a comprehensive approach with a team of individuals that range from school leaders, Student Service members, State's Attorney's Office and safety and security team members to ensure that we have clear policies in place against the use of vapes," Micallef said. "She instructed us that we set a tone, and we must be consistent with this, and as you can see from our numbers, our schools and our administrators are adhering to this policy."

VCS installed 141 vape detectors throughout its secondary schools and trained staff on how to use them, Micallef said. He added that the district has rolled out a safety campaign for all students to educate them on the dangers of vaping, including a partnership with the four Students Working Against Tobacco clubs found at schools across the county.

Micallef said the district also has a collaborative partnership with the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, which has conducted operations targeting shops that sell vapes to underage children. 

"Educating the youth and holding them accountable for poor decisions and working and educating our parents to reduce the nicotine abuse is something that we must do," he said. "We're partnering with all of our stakeholders to help influence the change in holding the sellers accountable and ensuring that it's as complicating as possible to get any kind of vapes in the hands of our children."

Student Services has also met with local officials to speak about educating elementary school students on the use of vapes and Marion County agreed to share an educational program to supplement any disciplinary actions.

How does Volusia County's referral rates compare to neighboring school districts? Based a poll conducted by VCS, Seminole County reported 75 referrals for Jan. 1 to March 31, while Lake County had 76 and Osceola reported 322.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 10, or 2.55 million middle and high school students used a vape, also called an e-cigarette, at least once in a 30-day period in 2022. 

At the workshop, Micallef also referenced an incident at a VCS school campus this year where a student got "incredibly sick" from vaping.

"This is really another pandemic that we have been hit with nationally here in the United States, so we have to get in front of it," Balgobin said. 

School Board member Carl Persis said he's been working to raise awareness about the issue of vapes in schools for a long time, particularly because of the higher doses of nicotine kids take in while vaping, leading to addiction. 

However, he agreed with School Board member Ruben Colon — who spoke about the importance of an educational component — in that the issue won't be resolved through punitive measures alone.

"You can't punish kids out of it," Persis said. "You can't just send them home for vaping. There has to be that educational piece."

School Board Chair Jamie Haynes also supported an educational approach, but said discipline must also occur. Haynes suggested that the district could consider an in-school suspension where students would be responsible for both their schoolwork and completing a curriculum about vaping. 

Haynes thanked administrators for filling out the referrals so that the board could see the numbers. 

"We need to understand the sheer number of students that are bringing vapes onto campus," Haynes said.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:35 a.m. to correct the spelling of VCS Student Services Executive Director Mike Micallef's name.


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