More Students Getting Caught Vaping in School

Woman smoking vape pen | Image by ilkov_igor/Shutterstock
Woman smoking vape pen | Image by ilkov_igor/Shutterstock

Texas students are increasingly being put in alternative school settings as a result of a new law about vaping devices.

HB 114 went into effect September 1, 2023, and increased punishments for students caught with vaping devices at school, reported Texas Community Health News (TCHN).

The new law has led to the removal of hundreds of students across North Texas from their usual classrooms and their transfer to disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEP), as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

Any student caught with a vaping device on campus or within 300 feet of school property or a school-sponsored event is to be placed into DAEP according to the new law.

Fort Worth ISD and Houston ISD, in particular, have seen a significant increase — 2380% and 417%, respectively — in the number of students sent to alternative education programs due to substance-related offenses, per data from the Texas Education Agency which compared the number of students sent to DAEP in the first half of the 2023-2024 school year to data from the previous year.

Mark Cerja, alternative education program administrator at Fort Worth ISD, told TCHN that HB 114’s mandatory punishment is an important way to curb a serious health threat to students.

“Immediately at the first offense, it’s a pretty serious message to the kids that we just can’t have these brought to school grounds,” said Cerja.

Dallas ISD has seen a 6% decrease in students being sent to DAEP. Still, the district has been struggling for years with academic outcomes. Only 41% of students in the district scored at grade level on their STAAR exams, and only 81.1% of students in the graduating Class of 2022 earned a high school diploma in four years when the statewide average was 90%.

The new law may also have some unintended consequences.

Zero-tolerance policies such as HB 114 can be harmful to students, particularly those who are designated as economically disadvantaged and are allegedly disproportionally affected by school discipline policies, claimed Brenda Scheuermann, a partner with the Center on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.

Scheuermann previously taught at Texas State University, where she spent her career researching alternative education and behavior inventions.

“When students are in disciplinary alternative placements, they’re out of their regular school, so they’re away from their friends, they’re away from their peers, and they’re out of their regular classes,” Scheuermann told TCHN. “So it’s conceivable that students can fall behind in their credits and be at risk for not graduating on time.”

Cerja, who supports HB 114, acknowledged that the increase in students sent to DAEP has impacted Fort Worth ISD’s resources and could impact students’ ability to graduate.

“It’s just another hurdle, you know, that the student is going to have to work around,” Cerja said, per TCHN. “It might not be quite as easy to pass a course without that teacher that they know, their teacher of record, to make it through with a high grade.”

The Dallas Express reached out to Fort Worth ISD for comment but did not receive a response upon publication.

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