CLEARING THE AIR: G-C set to steer students clear of vaping

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Assistant principals Susie Coleman and Nathan Bruck look at data to develop an effective vape diversion program for Greenfield Central Schools.

GREENFIELD — Greenfield-Central schools will soon launch a vape diversion program for students — designed to keep first-time offenders out of court while teaching them the dangers of vaping — a move that could soon be followed by other Hancock County schools.

While the program would ease the financial strain on students — who face a hefty fine if caught vaping on school grounds — the main hope is to help break the vaping habit among an age group in which the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping products has skyrocketed in recent years.

Greenfield-Central director of student services, Robin LeClaire, consulted with other Indiana school districts with vaping diversion programs in place to learn what might work well in Hancock County.

She’s worked with Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton and the Greenfield Police Department to devise an alternative program for students.

For now, first-time offenders caught on Greenfield-Central school grounds are automatically issued an out-of-school suspension and a citation that is sent to county court, resulting in a $137 fine. Parents face potentially higher insurance rates while students are left with a permanent mark on their record.

Greenfield-Central’s new program will allow students to attend an hour-long vape diversion presentation for a first offense, rather than facing a costly citation and permanent record.

“We are hopeful that this program will inform students of the dangers of vaping and will allow them to think twice before doing it again,” said Nathan Bruck, assistant principal at Greenfield-Central High School.

“Even in these situations we are educators, and we are hopeful we can educate them about the dangers and provide resources to them so that they make better choices in the future,” said Bruck.

In researching other school systems’ programs, LeClaire found an ally in the Franklin Township school district on the southeast side of Indianapolis, where a vape diversion program has proven effective.

First-time offenders there are given the option to attend an hour-long vaping diversion program during an in-school suspension rather than being given an out-of-school suspension. The student would still be given a citation, but it wouldn’t be submitted to court.

“The cost for the in-school diversion program is $75, which drops down to $25 if a parent attends,” said LeClaire, who plans to launch the same program at Greenfield-Central.

She said the hour-long diversion class would be offered once a month at the high school, led by either the school resource officer, Josh Mullins, or one of the two assistant principals, Bruck or Susie Coleman.

The three of them will visit Franklin Township schools next week to learn more about that corporation’s program.

“Franklin Township is providing us with all the materials and information on their program. They’ve been amazing to work with and have offered up everything from A to Z to help us get it started here in Hancock County,” said LeClaire.

She also commended the Hancock County prosecutor, juvenile court judge and local police, who have worked with Greenfield-Central officials to make the diversion program a reality.

“Brent (Eaton) is very much in favor of education and cessation programs to try to help students instead of just handing out punitive suspensions, so he’s been a great partner in this,” LeClaire said.

Both she and Eaton said that having Greenfield-Central’s program in place has paved the way for other Hancock County school systems to follow suit.

“All of us are hopeful that if we can get things to work here (at Greenfield-Central), this could be a program to expand into all the county schools,” Eaton said.

Just before Spring Break, LeClaire shared her research with fellow school administrators at the Hancock Safety Commission.

LeClaire said she’s happy to pass along the information to other corporations, just as Franklin Township administrators did for her.

“Programs like these aren’t being widely done yet, but the word has gotten out, and I’ve gotten some calls from colleagues in other counties wanting more information,” she said.

“All the schools in our state are struggling with this issue. We’ve seen an uptick since COVID when schools were shut down and then went to a hybrid schedule,” LeClaire said.

“So many schools are looking for solutions. There’s not going to be a silver bullet, but at least we can do something that helps students try to kick that addiction or stop before they get addicted by finding resources for them.”

That’s exactly what Greenfield-Central’s vape diversion program is designed to do, she said.

First-time offenders will be given the choice of whether to have a citation filed in court or to go through the diversion program, but parents have the final say.

Students who re-offend after going through the program will have both the original citation as well as the second citation filed in county court.

“That would not be a favorable outcome,” said LeClaire, noting that Franklin Township had a 90% success rate its first semester, with only eight of 75 students who went through the program cited with second offenses.

The fight to promote healthy habits and dissuade smoking and vaping among teens is an ongoing battle, she said, especially given the onslaught of marketing aimed to get teens hooked on bad habits.

Many high schools, including Greenfield-Central, have student-run organizations like VOICE, which encourages students to celebrate a tobacco-free lifestyle.

LeClaire said the corporation works closely with the Hancock County Tobacco-Free Coalition to connect students with the resources they need to steer clear of smoking and vaping, or to kick the habit for good.