At least one student at one of the Gordon County high schools was taken by ambulance to a local hospital while experiencing an illness after using a vaping device, Director of Student Services Mike Evelti told members of the Gordon County School Board during their monthly meeting Monday.

Evelti also said that while there isn’t proof of a direct correlation to the growing popularity of vaping, the school system has seen a recent uptick in the number of seizure cases at its schools.

Currently, school officials have been treating vaping product and e-cigarettes the same as traditional nicotine products, which means zero tolerance. But Evelti and Superintendent Kimberly Fraker discussed with the board on Monday the need to add vape and e-cig products to the rule book.

Evelti told the board that while traditional nicotine use is on the decline among school-age children and teens, the use of the newer products are increasingly on the rise, and it’s hard to always know what exactly is being used in the vape products. He said Pickens County Schools sent 12 students to the emergency room in vape-related incidents last year.

“It’s not just limited to high school and middle school students. It’s something that has been seen in fifth-graders across the country,” he said.

He said the school system is already working to educate students about the risks associated with the devices because many believe those products are safer than traditional tobacco products and don’t fully understand what they are putting into their bodies. Also, because the brain doesn’t fully develop until about age 25, teens and children are especially at risk, he said.

“If you break it all down, my biggest concern is the students’ health and well being,” Evelti said. “We need to get the message out there. It’s not going away.”

Board members Chris Johnson and Eddie Hall both said they are in favor of creating an official zero tolerance policy for vape and e-cig products, and Dana Stewart agreed that education is an important part of the process as well.

“It doesn’t just affect the people who are doing it, but the people around them as well,” Stewart said.

Fraker told board members a policy will need to be crafted to detail how school officials will handle the products when found, as well as any discipline issues. The policy will then be presented for a first reading at a future BOE meeting, voted on, and then presented again at another meeting for final approval.