Paulding students returned for the 2019-2020 school year to find they could face at least a week of suspension for merely having a vaping device at school.

The penalties increase for each subsequent offense and could lead to a recommendation for expulsion for a third offense, officials said in a notice on the Paulding County School District’s website.

The tougher vaping consequences are part of a change to an administrative regulation called the Student Code of Conduct for middle and high schools.

It targets the “battery-powered, pen-shaped devices” used to heat “everything from flavored nicotine to liquid THC” to an aerosol that is then inhaled.

The change makes possession of vaping devices an automatic level 2 offense and sets consequences for students who violate the rule, including:

♦ First offense, five days of out-of-school suspension.

♦ Second offense, 10 days of out-of-school suspension.

♦ Third offense, 10 days of out-of-school suspension and recommendation for long-term suspension or expulsion.

In addition, district officials said possession of a vaping device with THC “or any other type of illegal drug” is a “level 3” discipline offense “which will result in a first offense minimum consequence of 10 days out-of-school suspension which could also include a recommendation for long-term suspension (or) expulsion.”

THC is the substance in marijuana that produces its psychoactive effect.

The tougher penalties are a change from last year when possession of a vaping device could have been considered a more minor level 1 offense, said school district spokesman Jay Dillon.

Discipline consequences last year ranged from a warning by school administrators to up to 10 days of out-of-school suspension, he said.

Vaping devices also could have been considered to be drug paraphernalia, which could have led to a level 3 offense with consequences including expulsion, Dillon said.

He said the new rule “accomplishes three things.”

“One, it makes the consequences consistent at every middle school and high school. Two, it sends a clear message to students that vaping at school, and bringing vaping materials to school, is not acceptable and there will be serious consequences for students who do.

“Finally, there is an educational component because we want parents to understand just how widespread this phenomenon is among young people, even though it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to vape or purchase vaping materials,” Dillon said.

He said school district officials “also want both parents and students to be aware that vaping has potentially serious health effects and, as we found out last year, vaping can affect people in very different ways.”

“We plan to continue sharing information with parents in the near future,” he said.

Some parents, however, raised concerns about the change on the Paulding school district’s Facebook page — and named specific places, such as bathrooms, where students of both sexes typically vaped in schools last year.

School district officials said in the July 18 note to parents that during the 2018-2019 school year the school district “experienced a significant rise in the use of vaping devices by both middle and high school students during the past school year.”

“We had several student-related offenses involving marijuana or THC that resulted in student disciplinary action in Paulding County schools. Many of these offenses were directly related to vaping.

“Too often in our schools, student vaping has led to medical emergencies where, in some cases, students had to be transported to local hospitals.

“It is also against school district policy for students to vape or to bring the devices or materials to school.”

It also stated that any parents with additional questions or concerns should contact their child’s school principal.

Officials previously cited their concerns in a May letter to parents after seeing a rash of students of all ages using the devices.

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