AMBOY – The days of a student hiding a pack of cigarettes and a lighter are not gone, but heavily reduced compared to previous school years.
This doesn’t mean smoking in schools has stopped, actually, quite the opposite as vapes and weed pens are harder to smell and recognize.
The Amboy Junior High and High School implemented four censors in school bathrooms to help detect when a student is in the illegal act of vaping.
“The censors that we have go off daily. We try to track down students that were in the bathroom when they go off,” said Amboy High School Principal Janet Crownhart. “We try to limit the amount of time that some of our frequent flyers may be in the bathroom alone. We try to keep an eye out. At the same time, I have kids that are telling me they are afraid to go to the bathroom because kids are vaping and smoking pot in the bathroom.
“This is one of the biggest issues we have in the junior high and the high school.”
One of the reasons vaping is a huge issue at not only Amboy schools, but schools throughout the country, is the exact reasons why kids have replaced cigarettes with vapes.
Vapes are colorful. They look like allowed items.
They smell like other fragrances.
A teacher or administrator, or anyone else not using the device, can’t tell the difference between a vape and a stick of gum.
“It’s easier to vape in schools than it was to smoke cigarettes. The smell is one thing. Most of the vapes are either mint or fruit flavored,” Crownhart said. “The ones we find are mostly fruity and they smell like body sprays that girls are using. The mint ones smell like a spearmint gum.
“It’s not like smelling cigarette smoke where you know what that smell is and you can ask students, ‘Why is that smell on your clothes?’”
“The other thing is, they’re marketing vapes toward the kids as far as size and shape. For cigarettes, you had to have a pack or the easily recognizable cigarette with a lighter. Vapes look like Air Pod cases. Kids are walking down the hallway and it looks like they have their Air Pods in their pocket, but it’s really a vape.”
Amboy schools and the Amboy Police Department are in partnership with eliminating electronic smoking from schools.
Amboy Police Chief Paul Smith says the problem has gotten worse during recent years, but the censors have helped slowed it down.
“It’s very, very important that the schools get more censors. It’s a tool that the school can use and it also helps the police department,” said Chief Smith, who has been in law enforcement for almost 37 years, has been with the APD for 30 years. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been to the school for vaping because one week we are over there a couple of times and there are some weeks that we’re not there at all. One person doing it, it’s not good for themselves. We would like to stop it at an early age if we can.
“Vaping has really taken off over the last three or four years at the underage level. That’s why the school invested in the censors. Ever since the school installed the censors, it has slowed it down. The censors haven’t stopped the problem, but it has slowed it down.”
The school is also investing in censors because vaping is illegal for every student in Amboy Junior High and Amboy High School.
And vaping is prohibited in all public buildings at any age.
“It’s not legal for them until they turn 21. I don’t have any student in my building that vaping is legal,” Crownhart said. “It would be the same thing if they brought a bottle of vodka to school. Vodka isn’t legal until you’re 21. If you brought a bottle into school, you know you’re breaking the law. The smoking law is now set at 21, so you’re breaking the law.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can’t smoke a vape in a school building. It is prohibited (110 ILCS/ Smoke Free Campus Act in Illinois General Assembly). You’re not allowed to smoke in restaurants, court houses, or in any public buildings. Not only are the students not of age, but you’re also not allowed to do it in a school building even if you were of age.”
With censors in place this year, Crownhart and the Amboy school staff have seen that they do work and help detract school smokers.
However, there are only four.
For each of the school’s bathrooms to have enough censors, 16 more would have to be purchased and installed.
The price of a single censor is $995. Although the price seems steep, Crownhart was able to talk to the censor company and have the annual $120 fee per censor waived.
The Last Alarm donated funds to help the schools purchase the first four, but now AJH and AHS may need additional help riding illegal vapors in the bathroom.
“We decided to try out the vape censorship with four censors. We felt like that was a good number to start with. We knew we needed more, but we weren’t going to spend $20,000 upfront last year, no knowing if they were going to work.
“We’re happy with how they’re working. We have the opportunity and the means to get the next set ordered. It makes the most sense to get rocking on this and get censors in the rest of the school’s restrooms. It doesn’t take the kids very long to figure out which bathrooms have censors and which don’t.”
Not only does the school want to add more censors to stop an illegal act from happening inside its walls, but also for protection.
“Let’s face it, no one really knows what vaping is going to do you in the future as far as your lungs and lung capacity,” Crownhart said. “When previous generations were in high school, they talked a lot about cigarettes and presented what your lungs look like if you smoked cigarettes. Now, they’ve marketed vaping as being better for you than smoking. Well, is it? Do we know that it is? You’re still putting something into your lungs that is not supposed to be there.”
“It’s just like anything else when the kids are getting away with it. It’s not necessarily the kids that are doing it at home for the parents saying, ‘My kids are not vaping because I’m not finding a vape in their room.’ Like I said, they’re passing them around.
“We’ll have one vape that we’re pretty sure that 5-6 kids have passed between them. It might not be that their kid has it at home, but their kid might be involved at school. If you don’t know that your kid is vaping or telling you that they’re not, I feel like I’d rather know about it early so we can nix it before it turns into something bigger.”
If you’d like to make a donation to help Amboy Junior High and Amboy High School purchase more vape censors, call AHS at 815-857-3632 and ask for principal Janet Crownhart.