A Winnipeg high school’s recent handling of indoor vaping is raising concerns over how administrators can and should curb vaping in youth.
St. James Collegiate navigated backlash over a door it removed on one of the girls’ bathrooms. Parents and students voiced privacy concerns after discovering the door was gone on Thursday.
It was meant to be a temporary solution, but after considering both negative and positive feedback, St. James-Assiniboia School Division told Global News that the door has since been put back.
“The recent growth of vaping on school property and in enclosed public spaces continues to violate the division’s smoke-free policy, a city bylaw and provincial legislation,” a spokesperson for the division said in an emailed statement Friday.
“It can also be a safety concern and nuisance to other students using the facilities for their intended purpose.”
Vaping inside schools isn’t new, Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O’Leary said Friday, but it’s a growing problem they’re also once again having to navigate coming out of the pandemic.
“Things that weren’t an issue with kids working remotely, or high school kids for a significant period of time were coming every second day, are now a little more prominent,” O’Leary said.
“We’re having a fairly good winter, so it hasn’t been an acute problem, but we do get kids sometimes congregating in a washroom.”
Indoor vaping is concerning beyond just negative health effects, he said. Vaping can lead to nicotine addiction along with altering brain development in teens, Health Canada says.
“Usually, if schools are acting on that, they’re acting in the interests of kids who’ve come forward and said, ‘I feel uncomfortable going in there with, you know, 10 kids gathered vaping,” O’Leary said.
Solutions generally focus on educating and providing supports to students along with making vaping harder to do, before resorting to harsher consequences, he said.
“We’d have conversations with parents and work together with parents. There may be some taken-away privileges, even suspending a student from attending school to make a point.”
Meanwhile, St. James-Assiniboia School Division will continue educating students on the dangers of vaping, while making sure the washrooms are available to everyone, the spokesperson said.
The division’s board of trustees also provided Global News with a statement.
“It is always a challenge to balance the concerns and perspectives of different parties,” board chair Cheryl Smukowich said.
“We understand that substance use is a complicated issue. For that reason, we want to remind families that the division does have a variety of supports and services available for those wishing to quit smoking or vaping, and we encourage students to talk to their school guidance counsellors about the help that is available for this and other concerns.”
“In spite of these supports, we understand and respect that some students may continue smoking or vaping. We ask that they do so outside of school property, in alignment with Division policy, and out of respect for the students and staff that also need to make use of school facilities.”