Vaping, kids high in class, little fear of consequences for using drugs in school — the Ridgefield Prevention Council’s newest member offered the selectmen a student’s view of substance abuse among the town’s young people.

“I’ve had to sit next to people who are high in school,” Tarah Sleight, a RHS junior, said during an interview for the Prevention Council seat on Wednesday, Nov. 6.

“Vaping is still very prevalent,” she told the Board of Selectmen.

Nearly all illegal drug use comes with troubling consequences, Selectman Bob Hebert said, but the problems tend to be long range. Vaping appears to be different.

“Vaping is particularly concerning,” Hebert said, “because of all the near term impacts — all the deaths.”

Thirty-seven deaths in 24 states were associated with vaping and related lung injuries as of Oct. 29, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among 1,364 patients with lung problems related to vaping, the median age is 24 — 14 percent are under 18 and 40 percent are in the 18 to 24 acre group, the CDC reports.

RHS efforts

Ridgefield High School Principal Stacey Gross does not deny that drug and vaping problems exist at RHS, and she said the administration takes the situation very seriously.

“RHS has historically endeavored to confront all such problems in a head-on, transparent fashion,” Dr. Gross said. “In fact, we are one of the first high schools across the country to have implemented anti-vaping sensors.

“Additionally the following strategies are also in place:

  “Dangers of vaping are taught in all mandated 9th grade health and 12th grade wellness courses.

  “Annually 9th grade anti-drug and 11th grade anti-drug guest speakers include vaping in their presentations.

  “Students produce PSAs that are put on the school wide TVs and are tweeted.

  “Consistent well-defined consequences and follow-up counseling for students caught vaping. There is an extremely low rate of repeat behaviors.

  “Offering yearly Vaping Cessation Programs.

  “Informational updates/articles shared with staff for professional development.

  “Articles shared with staff, students, and parents on Twitter.

  “Numerous vaping sensors were purchased and placed in a variety of areas throughout the building.

  “Purchasing and displaying informational cards to help students make smart decisions about vaping.

  “Displaying posters sent from the FDA/Scholastic designed to increase awareness about the dangers of youth vaping.”

In her discussion with the selectmen, Sleight did acknowledge the addition of the vaping sensors in student restrooms at RHS last year.

“We have the vape sensors. That’s good,” she said.

Still, Sleight felt the problems at RHS are significant. She told the selectmen students use “dab pens in order to get high in school.”

Sleight said she thought teenagers are particularly vulnerable to drugs.

“We’re still kids. Our bodies are still developing,” she said.

In a Nov. 1 letter to First Selectman Rudy Marconi, Sleight sought appointment to the Ridgefield Prevention Council. “I am interested in helping improve our community and preventing the use of addictive substances by minors,” she said.

Talking to the board, Sleight said one of the helpful roles she could play is reaching out to fellow students: “Help let kids know drugs are not the only way to deal with stress and have fun,” she said.

How prevalent?

Marconi asked Sleight how many kids, in an RHS junior class of about 400, were into vaping and other illegal drug use.

“I’d say either half or a majority — maybe 200 to 250,” she replied. “It’s a lot of people.”

Presented with this estimate, RHS Principal Gross was quite skeptical.

“I am so proud of our students' efforts toward advocacy on important causes and we are proud of this particular student's interest in serving on the Prevention Council,” Dr. Gross said in a email response to The Press. “It is important to note though, that as students are learning and growing in their efforts to participate in school and community agencies it is essential that we guide them toward accuracy and responsible reporting.

“In this case, as in many others, what one feels about a situation is not necessarily supported by any existing data,” Gross said. “An estimate that about half or more of the junior class uses drugs is without basis.”

“Something disturbing,” Selectman Hebert said to Sleight, “you said they do it because they feel like there’s no consequences.”

“They feel like they can get away with anything,” Sleight said, “and they can.”