Alternative school photo

School districts across the state have seen an increase in THC vapes in the hands of students. And with many districts treating THC vapes as a zero-tolerance offense, alternative school programs have become filled to maximum capacity, thus leaving others with lesser offenses to suffer the consequences.

The emergence of vapes in the hands of minors has caused a sweeping health crisis that has now become a major issue in school systems across the nation.

Although it is illegal in Tennessee to sell vapes to minors (individuals under 21), kids are illicitly gaining access to them, many of which contain THC, and bringing them into the schools.

Middle Tennessee school districts have seen their share of vapes, thus forcing the school systems to figure out a way to deal with the issue.

“A THC vape is a zero-tolerance offense,” said Trousdale County Director of Schools Clint Satterfield “It’s state law. We are going hold steadfast to zero tolerance. THC is a schedule VI drug, and a schedule VI drug, by state law, is a zero-tolerance drug. I think what the board and I are discussing right now is how we are going to handle it.”

But according to Macon County Director of Schools Shawn Carter, many school systems throughout the state have not yet determined how they are going to permanently classify vaping offenses by students as the state still seems foggy in its interpretation of the issue.

“I was at a superintendent’s meeting this week in Nashville, and this problem (students vaping in school) is everywhere,” said Carter. “The state says there is more information coming. So, we’re waiting to see what the state’s recommendations are going to be.

“We have not worked vapes, specifically, into our discipline code yet. We don’t have a policy that covers vaping. We have one that we use based on an illegal substance, but we don’t yet have one strictly outlined for vaping.”

With vaping being a major offense in schools, other related problems, such as limited space at alternative school programs for offenders, have emerged.

“The first offense (in Trousdale County) with a THC vape is alternative school,” said Trousdale County Alternative Learning Center Principal J. Brim McCall. “But when you have 12 or 13 seats in the alternative school for 1,000 students, and you start taking those seats up with 180-day or 365-day kids, you start limiting your options.”

Trousdale County School Board member Robert Atwood added, “If students are caught with a THC vape, their punishment is for a calendar year, and that is taking up all the room in our alternative school. So, the problem is, when other children get in trouble for a more minor offense, if the alternative school is full, the next option is to be suspended. But when you are suspended, you get all zeros for your grades. Whereas, if you are in alternative school, you get to do your work, and it counts toward your grades.”

For districts like Trousdale County where THC vapes are zero tolerence, the director of schools is given the option to modify the policy at his or her discretion.

“When something is zero-toleranced, the law is very clear that they are to be expelled for a calendar year, and it’s only modified by the director of schools,” said Satterfield. “The first modification I made was allowing them to go to the alternative school. But if this epidemic continues, and we don’t have enough room, then I won’t be doing that first level modification. So, they need to prepare for that.

“Our alternative school is an alternative to expulsion. The idea is to try to keep kids in school, to try to keep them where they can make their grades and they can graduate on time. However, if this continues, I can see us not remanding students (with zero-tolerance offenses) in the future to the alternative school, and therefore, they would be expelled for the full calendar year. With compulsory attendance laws, they can’t just sit out of school. And between the ages of 7 and 17, parents would have to provide an education for their child.”

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