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Stockton, Lodi schools see surge in vaping among students

The Lodi Unified School District applied for a grant to get vape detectors installed in schools.

STOCKTON, Calif. — Johnathan Victoria, 14, was stunned when he witnessed a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old vaping in his elementary school bathroom in Stockton last year.

"I couldn't believe my eyes. I walked in there and right when I seen it, I went to go to the principal," Victoria said.

Now a freshman in high school at Merlo Institute of Environmental Technology in Stockton, he said vaping should be banned altogether. His friends think so, too.

"Yes, it should be banned. There are a lot of other ways to deal with anxiety and things like that," said Karla Ceballos, a 14-year-old freshman at Merlo.

The Stockton Unified School District does not keep specific statistics for vaping incidents. However, the district said it is seeing an uptick in vaping in just the last school year.

"Definitely, students are being caught with it. We noticed last spring. We have a real issue with the vaping materials being fruit flavored. They definitely attract teens," said Deanna Staggs, the Stockton Unified School District program coordinator for health services.

Staggs has worked in health services for the district for 20 years and said last year was the most she'd ever seen. She said each school campus has a wellness center staffed with a full-time registered nurse, mental health clinician, and a social worker.

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If a student is caught vaping, they receive three counseling sessions. The district said no student is suspended for vaping.

For now, no vaping statistics are kept by the district. 

However, the Lodi Unified School District (LUSD) does keep statistics. Last year, there were 167 incidents of students caught vaping throughout the district.

To combat the growing trend of vaping, the district applied in July for a $1.5 million federal Tobacco Program Grant offered by the U.S. Department of Justice.

LUSD plans to use the money to install vape detectors in locker rooms and bathrooms throughout its 50 school campuses. The district is still awaiting word on whether they will receive the money.

Spokesperson Chelsea Vongehr said the district has onsite counselors that talk to students about the dangers of vaping and substance abuse.

"In addition, all of our high schools receive eight hours of substance abuse counseling provided by the Teen 180 Center," Vongehr said.

The Modesto City Schools does not keep specific statistics in regards to vaping. Instead, vaping falls into the category of "possessing or using tobacco" or "possessing, using, or being under the influence." 

Students face a 5-day suspension and may be assigned to substance abuse counseling, according to the Modesto City Schools Information Handbook & Conduct Code. If it persists, a student may face expulsion and "notification of appropriate law enforcement agency."

Modesto City Schools Spokesperson Becky Fortuna said Beyer High School recently hosted a "Teen Vaping" presentation regarding the dangers of vaping.

"The health and safety of our students is our top priority. Research has shown that vaping is a danger to our students' health," Fortuna said.

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