South Summit High School suspends 14 football players from team for vaping
South Summit High School has suspended 14 players from the football team for the rest of the regular season for vaping on school buses traveling to and from football games, Principal Wade Woolstenhulme said. The students are not suspended from academic activities and remain in school.
The suspensions come on the heels of Utah’s first vaping-related death last week, when an otherwise healthy 30-year-old died at their home, according to the Utah Department of Health.
“Bottom line is — vaping is killing people,” Woolstenhulme said. “We had kids from our school that have been hospitalized this year because of vaping. We don’t want any more. We don’t want any kids to get sick, to get long-term illnesses.”
The principal added that the students who have been hospitalized have been released and are doing fine.
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The school’s investigation into the players started Friday, Oct. 4, after the school received a tip there had been vaping on football team buses. Woolstenhulme and other school officials reviewed surveillance footage from the buses and by Monday had discovered at least three incidents of students vaping.
After seeing the footage, Woolstenhulme told the football team he’d give players 24 hours to come to his office and admit to vaping. Those that did would be shown more leniency than those who did not.
“I just wanted to give the kids a chance to own it,” Woolstenhulme said. “I think it’s a lot better lesson if they have to exercise their conscience a little bit. I think it builds integrity in young men.”
The next day, 11 students came forward, Woolstenhulme said. Those students have been suspended from the team for the last two games of the regular season but will be eligible to play if the team makes the playoffs and the students complete the terms of their suspension.
The surveillance footage captured two other students who did not self-report. Woolstenhulme said those students — one junior and a senior — have been suspended indefinitely and will not be eligible to return this year. For the senior, that means his high school football career is over.
The day after those suspensions were handed down, another student came forward, bringing the total to 14.
The suspensions include a revocation of the privilege to leave campus at lunchtime and a requirement to complete a vaping-awareness program developed by the school psychologist, said Shad Sorenson, the district’s superintendent.
The nationwide outbreak of lung injuries from vaping has killed 26 people and affected 1,300, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Most patients reported vaping THC, an active ingredient in cannabis, and the CDC said products containing THC play a major role in the outbreak. The CDC and the Utah Department of Health recommend not vaping anything that contains THC.
Woolstenhulme said he assumed the players were vaping nicotine, though video footage cannot determine that. One student self-reported using THC, he said.
The superintendent stressed the importance of increasing education about the dangers about vaping, both in schools and at home.
“For some reason, our students are not seeing the dangers associated with vaping,” Sorenson said. “This is a stance saying, ‘We care way more about you and your lives than we do about participating in a football game.”
The punishment for possessing tobacco at school functions, according to the South Summit High School student handbook, is a suspension and possible citation from the police, even as a first offense.
In this case, Sorenson said, the school is following a restorative justice model. He said removing students from school grounds would allow them more time to get into trouble.
Woolstenhulme said his view is that suspending students from school is seldom effective.
“Those kids just get further and further behind (and increase the) risk to dropping out of school,” the principal said. “I’d rather them be in school where we can watch them and help them.”
He added that students are getting sneakier when it comes to vaping and that it’s increasingly difficult to detect. Vaping devices are small and can look like everyday objects and can be easily hidden in sleeves, he said. The vapor is mostly odorless and can be blown down a sleeve to be obscured.
Sorenson said the district is looking into vape-detection devices and has been in talks with a private security firm on the matter.
“We are dead set on making sure we do everything we possibly can to eliminate it from our schools and our extra curricular activities,” he said.
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“We’re kind of turning the corner … and it’s now time to maybe put out the welcome mat in a careful and thoughtful manner,” said Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau.”