Warren Sheriff: SROs Can ‘Only Do So Much’ On Teen Vaping Problems In Schools

Warren County Sheriff Brian Zeybel talks about vaping at Monday’s school board meeting. Post-Journal photo by Brian Ferry

WARREN, Pa. — Parents turned out at the Warren County School District committee meetings to hear what’s being done to keep their children from vaping in school.

They heard a number of actions underway or in the works. They also had a finger pointed directly at them.

District officials are working on training their personnel in recognition, are purchasing and installing vape-sensing equipment, have an anonymous tip-line, have beefed up the discipline code related to vaping, and are working with magistrates on setting up even more meaningful penalties for violators.

School resource officers reported that canine searches turned up vapes… but also created tension with parents.

“The SROs are doing the best we possibly can with what we have,” SRO Joshua Warmath said. “We had a K-9 search at Warren Area High School. It turned up nicotine vapes.”

The search resulted in an apparent reduction in school vape activity. It was a temporary reduction.

More searches could have been conducted, but “parents… didn’t receive that K-9 search well,” he said. “As kids got comfortable, (vaping) came back.”

Officers are limited in what they can do. So are district personnel.

“I can’t go search through a student’s backpack,” Warmath said. “I need probable cause. The school needs reasonable suspicion.”

“We still play by the constitution,” Warren County Sheriff Brian Zeybel said. Parents, however, are not under those restrictions.

“You’re responsible to raise your child,” he said. “You have rights there, too.”

Zeybel asked parents what they were doing to keep their children from vaping in school. “Our guys can only do so much,” he said. “But there’s an ‘I’ in vape.”

The district has ordered HALO vape sensors and plans to have them in place for the coming school year. “The HALO device is an environmental sensor… that can detect different types of chemicals,” District Safety and Security Coordinator Brandon Deppen said. “It can detect the difference between a traditional nicotine vape and a THC vape.”

The sensors are expected to result in a reduction of vape us in bathrooms, locker rooms, and other areas.

Zeybel agreed and delivered a warning to parents. “I think the HALO system can significantly decrease vape use in school,” he said. “If it isn’t here anymore, it goes home. It goes back to mom and dad. Beware.”

District personnel, like law enforcement officers, are learning to recognize the signs that indicate people are under the influence of drugs and to differentiate the signs to help determine what drugs might be present, Deppen said.

While THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — is a common ingredient in vapes, it’s not like the marijuana that people have smoked in the past.

“We’re not talking about marijuana,” Deppen said. “This is completely different.”

“The delivery system is different,” he said. “They’re not smoking.”

Zeybel said there were 107 incidents in the district last year that were vape or drug related.

Three were “old-fashioned marijuana. A handful of pills,” he said. “The rest? All vapes.”

He said the THC that is included in pens and dabs has been purified. Smoking marijuana was a much less efficient way to deliver THC.

“You take one pure dab… you’re going to the hospital,” he said. “That concentrate… literally the size of a pin-head… and inhale that through a vape… that’s three or four joints.”

See VAPING , Page A6

“It’s the concentration… that makes them different than back in the day when it was marijuana,” Zeybel said.

Deppen pointed to johnnysambassadors.org as a site that would be useful for those interested in learning about THC and vaping. “This is a mother who lost her son to THC,” Deppen said. “The information she has on her website is outstanding. Her son started… when he was 14 years old. He died when he was 19 from psychosis from the use of THC.”

“It can help dispel a lot of the things you think you know about it, but you really don’t,” he said.

Zeybel said THC is not the worst thing that can be put in a vape. “The other scary thing about this dab is you can put about anything in there,” he said.

Fentanyl and its more potent derivatives can be ingested via vape, he said.

Zeybel said law enforcement is “the last-ditch effort. What can we do? We can charge them.”

“You’re allowed to correct your kid,” he said. “That’s not child abuse.”

“When was the last time you tossed your kid’s room like a jail cell?” he asked. “We do it all the time at the jail.”

“When was the last time you asked for your child’s phone, asked for their password, opened it, found some deplorable things, put it on the ground, and stomped it with your boot heel?” he asked.

Students’ home lives can also result in mixed messages.

“Maybe parents are smoking weed… but everyone’s surprised to see their kids are smoking vapes in school,” Zeybel said. “If your kid’s smoking a vape at the breakfast table, you don’t know what’s in their room, yet it’s a big surprise that your kid smoked a vape in a bathroom that someone gave them.”

“It comes back to the ‘I’,” he said. “Get involved. Get involved with your children. Get involved here.”


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