FLORENCE — It was a temporary solution to an ongoing issue.
That’s the sentiment Wilson High School Principal Gary Horton has repeated since news spread this week of some stall doors being removed from bathrooms on campus in an attempt to mitigate a vaping issue.
“We just took them off in certain areas," Horton said Tuesday. "They are replaced, the issue was addressed, and it will be addressed continually.”
A few stall doors were removed Aug. 30 in a boys bathroom located in the lobby of the old gymnasium, as well as one stall door in a different boys bathroom. The bathrooms were in an area where Horton said students had begun to “congregate.”
Some of the doors were back up as of Friday, Horton said. The last of them were back in place Monday.
The decision to remove the doors came after Horton said a student was being helped to the nurse’s office from class and passed out.
“They came and got me, and … we got him up, got him to the nurse and called his parents, and his parents took him to the emergency room,” Horton recalled. “During the course of the day, there were some kids that informed me that he had taken a hit off a vape.
“I never removed all of the doors from the stalls. I never did. Kids always had access to use the restroom in private. They always did. But I had to address a particular area, I felt like, so that was the one area I addressed.
"I told several of the kids that this was a temporary solution," the principal added. "It’s not a permanent solution. It never was intended to be a permanent solution.”
Horton said the Lauderdale County School System policy instructs administrators to treat vaping the same as tobacco. If caught, the apparatus is confiscated and the student could face in-school suspension based on the number of violations.
According to Superintendent Jon Hatton, school administrators have “some discretion” in handling situations.
Horton said Wilson already has hall monitors, and faculty has checked in on the bathrooms a few times throughout the day.
He acknowledged removing stall doors may not have been the best solution, but he did notice a decrease in vaping activity after the doors were removed.
Now, Horton said the school is considering more permanent solutions as officials continue to field parents’ calls.
“I understand concerns,” he said. “I have concerns as well. My concern is the health of these kids … but at the same time, I’m not going to take away their rights or privacy or anything of that nature.
“There are, I found out, vape detectors that I can look into the purchase of. Would that help? Maybe. I have instructed the faculty and staff (to be) more conscious. I don’t want to walk into the bathroom and just stand. I don’t want to do that, and I don’t want to search the kids.”
Hatton said educating students on the dangers of vaping is a major focus.
Horton said Wilson has also brought in police officers and held assemblies to “keep the kids informed” on vaping and other issues.
“I just could not sit back and not do anything,” he added. “Am I going to eliminate the problem? No. They didn’t eliminate the (smoking) problem 34 years ago, but at the same time, if something bad were to happen, and I didn’t do something, then what?
“It was a temporary solution to a problem that I felt like I needed to deal with for the safety of our kids," Horton said. "I can’t stop it completely, but we’ll work on it.”