School district and law enforcement officials say they are working to educate the public and address the issue of vaping by young people in Paulding schools..

Officials are dealing with the issue amid a series of reports about students as young as elementary school found inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by electronic cigarettes or similar devices at their schools in recent weeks.

Sheriff’s deputies say nine students illegally used the vaping devices during school in a recent two-week period, said Sgt. Ashley Henson of the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office.

In addition, recent news reports told of a South Paulding High School student passing out after using a vape device to smoke at school and a school nurse reviving him April 30.

Paulding County School Board member Jason Anavitarte said board members and school district administrators have discussed “how we directly address this epidemic.”

“Vaping is a serious issue in Paulding County and one the Paulding School Board takes seriously,” Anavitarte said.

Henson said GBI investigators were testing to see whether THC, the substance in marijuana that produces the psychoactive effect from smoking it, was in the student’s vaping liquid.

In a separate incident the same day, a Paulding deputy reported he met with a 16-year-old South Paulding student who admitted to having two vaping pens at school and vaping oil, which the deputy confiscated. The student said he bought the oil at an area store.

Superintendent Brian Otott said in a statement to the media the Paulding County School District “has seen a dramatic increase in student vaping and incidents related to vaping” this school year.

“This is a very concerning trend that has reached a near-epidemic status, and we know that other school districts are reporting the same phenomenon,” he said.

“Students are vaping in our high schools and middle schools, and we have even seen a few cases in the elementary schools,” he said.

He emphasized that student vaping has become a “significant” issue that administrators and school resource officers deal with on a daily basis.

“Besides being illegal for students under the age of 18 and a violation of school rules, vaping can have serious health consequences for students,” he said. “Addressing this issue will require a community-wide effort and focus.”

He noted the district hosted the last of four Alcohol and Drug Awareness Programs this school year at East Paulding Middle School today, May 3.

“That is why our close partnership with the Paulding County Sheriff's Office is so critical,” Otott said.

The Sheriff's Office plays a key role in the programs, he said.

“These educational programs, hosted by the Paulding County commissioners and Superior Court, are held at high schools and middle schools throughout the school year, and we will continue to use these forums as a means of educating students about the dangers of drug and alcohol use, as well as vaping.”

He said the school district also will be sending a letter containing information on vaping to all its parents.

The letter “also will provide information about the vaping epidemic, as well as resources to educate parents and help them begin to have conversations with their children about this serious topic.”

“In order to effectively address the problem, we must involve parents,” Otott said.

Anavitarte said in a public Facebook post Paulding residents and school district parents “need to be involved and step up to engage this issue with your kids and neighbors.”

“You will be hearing more in the coming weeks as to how we will address this epidemic and I have been in contact with our state leaders engaging them,” he said.

An organization called Drug Free Paulding announced it was hosting a community-wide “Marijuana and Vaping Summit” Monday, May 6, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Hiram High School auditorium at 702 Virgie Ballentine Drive in Hiram.

The event is scheduled to feature speakers who will present evidence of “the dangers of marijuana and vaping to youth brain development as well as the misconceptions that youth and adults have regarding these burning issues,” a news release stated.

“Topics cover not only the truth and misunderstandings about marijuana, medical marijuana, and vaping; but also what the Georgia law currently says and what pending legislation includes,” a news release stated.

“Youth are very confused about marijuana and vaping. School systems across the country are inundated with adolescents vaping in school bathrooms, classrooms and buses.

“Teachers, administrators, school counselors and school law enforcement are overwhelmed with this issue.”

Organizers said speakers who confirmed their attendance include Laura Searcy, chairman of the Cobb Community Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse; Gregg Raduka, executive director and CEO of Let’s Be Clear Georgia and Let’s Get Clear Georgia; and District 67 State Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, the release stated.

Gravley sponsored legislation that Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law this year allowing approved patients to legally purchase a non-psychoactive, medicinal oil derived from marijuana in Georgia.

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