Pass Christian High School gets tough on vaping

Vape detectors are now in every bathroom, and punishments are issued on the first offense.
When students are cited, they go before a city judge.
Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 6:29 PM CDT
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PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. (WLOX) - It will be a hard year for students who vape at Pass Christian High School. The school district has added stiffer penalties.

Eight students have already received citations for vaping – each facing a $100 fine.

“Any student that has a vape on our campus, has it illegally because you must be 21 to purchase a vape,” said Principal Dr. Beth Bellipanni.

And this year, technology is playing a big part in enforcing the rules. Vape detectors are now in every bathroom.

“The day before yesterday, we activated our vape sensors,” Bellipanni said. “And yesterday, we started to receive alerts to our cell phones.”

This year, the punishment is issued on the first offense.

“We want our school to be safe,” she said. “We’re safe in every aspect. We care about our students. We care about their physical wellbeing as well as their peers physical wellbeing.”

And any vape puff is tracked immediately.

“When we get the alerts, we go to the bathroom,” Bellipanni added. “If there are students in there, we pull those students out and walk them to the office.”

That’s where parent Sara Carlson has a problem. And the social media posts by students describing the search as a pat down is fueling concern.

“Conducting a search where there is no evidence as to how they searched the child is my concern,” Carlson said.

Bellipanni said the searches are done behind closed doors to protect the students’ privacy. Students must empty their own pockets, backpacks, and purses. There is an administrator conducting the search in the presence of a witness. And Bellipanni said the search is done without touching the student.

But Carlson wants proof.

“For the protection of the school administration, teachers and principals and the protection of the student, I feel it should be done in front of a camera so that there is evidence that how they’re searching that child does not consist of patting a child down.”

Bellipanni said she understands the concern, but she assures parents they have no reason to worry.

“It’s a district rule and it’s a policy procedure. I want to say it’s Admin 101,” she said. “We don’t put our hands on students in that manner.”

The citations to students are processed by the School Resource Officer. When the Pass Christian students are cited, they go before a city judge. And there is an option for the judge to sentence student offenders to 20 hours of community service instead of a fine for the parents.

Pass Christian school leaders ultimately want to keep students from vaping anywhere, not just at school. To that end, they offer a class on the dangers of vaping to all students, not just the ones caught vaping.

The Long Beach School District is also focused on educating young people to the dangers of vaping. School leaders tell WLOX News they looked into vape detection technology similar to what Pass Christian is using.  But it got to be too close to the start of the school year to make the investment.  

Instead, Long Beach decided that any student who vapes in school must go to a separate wing of the campus and participate in a program offered by Singing River Health System. Long Beach’s superintendent said this approach keeps students in school, and focuses on prevention. The idea is to try and rehabilitate students so they stop vaping before it becomes an addiction.

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