It used to be that preventing smoking cigarettes in high school bathrooms was a challenge for administrators.
Today it is vaping, smoking of electronic cigarettes, a trend that has led Jonathan Law High School to shut down all but one set of student bathrooms as administrators try to get a handle on the situation.
School Supt. Fran Thompson posted a message on the school website recently informing parents about the matter.
“Due to a continued increase in bathroom issues – vaping, socializing and some vandalism — the staff will be more closely monitoring the bathrooms at Jonathan Law,” the message states. “… the only bathrooms that will be open will be in the new gym foyer and there will be a teacher on hall duty there. As well, there will be a student sign-in sheet. There will be signs on the other bathrooms to direct students to the open bathrooms.”
Thompson said that while it’s only a small number of students who are using the bathrooms to gather and vape, the numbers are increasing.
“This has caused some students hesitation to use the restrooms,” Thompson said. “Students and parents have requested that we do something to address these issues.”
He said administrators met and decided they had to monitor the bathrooms to evaluate what is actually going on.
“The layout of our school presents a challenge in monitoring bathroom usage due to their locations on either end of the hallways,” Thompson said. “So, in order to monitor the bathrooms, we had to consolidate the bathrooms that are open.”
One resident reached out to the Milford Mirror and complained about the situation.
“Students are only allowed to use one bathroom now located in a far section of the school. How crazy is that?” the resident said. “Is this really the proper procedure to take? What if a child feels ill, or for whatever reason needs quick access to a bathroom? This is not going to solve the issues at hand.”
Thompson said the bathrooms in the new gym lobby are the only bathrooms that have girls and boys lavs in the same area, and they have plenty of stalls for students. The nurses’ bathrooms are on the other end of the building and they too are open to students at all times.
“As well, all teachers do have access to the nearest bathroom for any student in an emergency,” Thompson added.
He said so far the feedback from many students has actually been positive.
“There was a concern about the possibility of long lines but that issue hasn’t materialized,” Thompson said. “This is a temporary measure so my team and I can evaluate the bathroom usage issue.”
Board of Education Chairman Susan Glennon said the matter is being handled at the school level.
“This is a building level issue and I encourage any parent who has a concern about the situation to call Principal Thompson and have a conversation with him,” Glennon said.
The principal said he is confident a solution will be found.
Vaping, a nationwide issue
“The vaping issue is a growing trend nationwide and our community is no exception,” Thompson said. “As more is known about the long term effects of vaping, it is becoming alarmingly clear that this is a major health crisis for teenagers.”
Thompson said he is working to get a parent-student forum/presentation on vaping sometime in early February.
A similar forum has also been discussed at Foran High School.
A November 2017 article from the Boston Globe reported on the growing problem of “Juuling in the bathroom,” which is smoking an e-cigarette brand called a Juul that is very small and easy to conceal.
“In some high schools, the ‘Juuling in the bathroom’ problem has gotten so intense that administrators are sending home e-mails warning parents about the dangers of e-cigarettes in general — and, in particular, about a brand called Juul, which makes sleek devices that are easily concealed and often mistaken for thumb drives,” the Boston Globe reported.
An October 2017 article in USA Today said the Juul vaping device had “gone viral” on high school and college campuses, largely because it doesn’t look like an e-cigarette.
“The Juul vaporizer (stylized as “JUUL”) looks like a USB flash drive,” USA Today reported. “It even charges when plugged into a laptop. It’s small enough to fit inside [a closed hand], and comes with flavors like creme brulee, mango and fruit medley…”
According to the US Department of Health and Food Services FDA website, in 2016 more than two million middle and high school students were using e-cigarettes.
The FDA website also states that between 2011 and 2015, e-cigarette use rose from 1.5% to 16.0% among high school students and from 0.6% to 5.3% among middle school students.
In 2016, the FDA extended the Center for Tobacco Product’s regulatory authority to cover all tobacco products, including electronic nicotine delivery systems that meet the definition of a tobacco product. FDA now regulates the manufacture, import, packaging, labeling, advertising, promotion, sale, and distribution of the electronic devices, the website states.
The FDA site also says there are many names for the electronic nicotine delivery systems: “Vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or ecigs), and e-pipes are some of the many terms used to describe electronic nicotine delivery systems.”
“These products use a liquid ‘e-liquid’ that may contain nicotine, as well as varying compositions of flavorings, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and other ingredients. The liquid is heated into an aerosol that the user inhales.”
Statement from Juul
At Juul, a company spokesperson said the company hopes to help in the effort to reduce the number of minors who use tobacco products.
“Juul Labs’ mission is to eliminate cigarette smoking by offering existing adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes,” said a company spokesman. “Juul is not intended for anyone else. We strongly condemn the use of our product by minors, and it is in fact illegal to sell our product to minors. No minor should be in possession of a Juul product.”
A company press statement goes on to say that Juul hopes to further reduce the number of minors who possess or use tobacco products, including vapor products, and to find ways to keep young people from ever trying these products.
“We approach this with a combination of education, enforcement, technology and partnership with others who are focused on this issue, including lawmakers, educators and our business partners.”