The beginning of a new year also marks the start of stricter punishments for students who bring electronic cigarettes, commonly known as “vapes” or “vape pens,” onto school property within the Hillsborough Township Public School District.
Recent changes to the district’s substance abuse policy and the Student Code of Conduct for Hillsborough High School, Hillsborough Middle School and Auten Road Intermediate School officially took effect on Jan. 2, after members of the Hillsborough Township Board of Education ratified the changes before the end of 2017.
“The updates to the board policy and code of conduct are important, preventative steps to dissuade students from engaging in unhealthy behaviors at school with the goal of encouraging Hillsborough’s youth to make decisions that are in their best interests,” HHS Principal Karen Bingert said.
Electronic cigarettes are handheld devices that emulates the act of smoking by heating a liquid to create a vapor that the user then inhales. Though most liquids do not contain the more toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke, some liquids still contain nicotine and can lead to addiction in non-smokers.
Some models of electronic cigarettes can also be used to facilitate the use of marijuana, marijuana oil extracts and other illicit substances.
“In recent months the prevalence of electronic smoking devices and the brazenness with which students are using these in the building have increased exponentially due to ease of accessibility and less noticeable odors or smoke,” Bingert said.
Prior to the board’s Dec. 18 decision, vaping and e-cigarette devices were considered tobacco products. Under the newly revised policies, those devices now fall in the same category as pipes, rolling paper and hypodermic needles.
As a result of those changes, any students found in possession of tobacco-related items, including an electronic smoking device or the accompanying cartridges, oils, waxes or components, will be punished with a three day in-school suspension. The district would also take those actions against any student found using an electronic smoking device on school grounds.
Since the district is adopting the stance that an electronic cigarette can be used with narcotics, officials said students found in possession of one will be dealt with as if they were under the influence of drugs.
Existing district regulations state that if a student is found to be in possession of drug paraphernalia, the school would contact the pupil’s parent or guardian who must take them for a drug test. If found positive for drug use, the student will receive additional days of in-school suspension, as well as a ban from school activities for one month.
Along with in-school suspension, officials said the district would also consider filing charges against an offending student with the municipal court.
In recent weeks, Superintendent Dr. Jorden Schiff said the district is looking into teaming up with law enforcement to issue tickets for students who bring a vaping device to school, with tickets ranging from $250 for the first offense to $1,000 for third offense.
To that end, the district is working with the Hillsborough Township Police Department, the municipal government, the Hillsborough and Millstone Municipal Alliance, the district Life Skills program and school and district administrators to curb “the risky behaviors that our students and may be experiencing.”
The district will hold an informational night on Tuesday, January 23 at 7 p.m. in the Hillsborough High School auditorium to discuss electronic smoking devices and other things to be on the lookout for to keep students away from drugs.