Opinion: Administration Needs A Better Approach When Confronting Students About Vaping

Drew Gray '23, Co-Editor

During the week before break, I was sitting in room B332 watching the movie Slumdog Millionaire with my classmates for my Literary Analysis of Film class. A few minutes before the bell rang, Assistant Principal Ms. Mercandante walked into the classroom and briefly spoke to my teacher Ms. Smith. As I got up to leave for my next class, Ms. Mercandante approached me and asked me to lead her downstairs to her office.

At this point, I began to panic. I had no idea what I had done wrong and when I asked her if I had done anything wrong, she insisted we wait until we reached her office. Once I entered her office, she shut the door behind her and walked over to her desk. She then began to tell me that I was seen in the first floor bathroom on the security cameras next to Mrs. Stoker’s classroom during period 4 on that day. She went on to say that the sensors they have in the bathrooms went off at this time, signifying that there was some sort of vaping or smoking going on at that time. Because of this, I was supposedly suspected of having a vape on my person. She told me that as part of a routine process, she needed me to empty my pockets and that she would need to search my backpack for said vape. 

So, I emptied my pockets and showed her I did not have a vape. Then, she put on a pair of blue latex gloves and started rummaging through my bag. She went through every single pocket inside my bag, even emptied my lunchbox and searched the containers inside it. All the while, Ms. Mercandante was trying to make conversation with me about some of the things in my backpack and because I was wearing a WHS basketball jersey. 

I walked out of that office in complete disbelief. I was in complete shock that just because I was inside of a bathroom at the time these sensors went off, I needed to be escorted down to the office to be searched. And, the thing that is most concerning to me is the fact that Ms. Mercandante expected to find something. 

Anyways, I understand that administration has a responsibility to keep the school and the students inside it safe. The court case New Jersey. V. T.L.O. gives the right to schools for leniency in terms of searches and seizures on school grounds. So in terms of the law, this search was legal. However, the way in which the situation was handled was upsetting. First of all, the way in which Ms. Mercandante approached me made it seem like I was in serious trouble. If I had known what she was doing, I wouldn’t have been so anxious walking to her office. Secondly, I have never heard of students being searched like this before. It is definitely an invasion of my privacy, even if it is technically legal. The only evidence that the administration had that I could be tied to using a vape was that I was in the bathroom at that time. Otherwise, according to Mrs. Mercandante, it could have been anyone else in any of the other bathrooms in the school because the sensors are triggered in all the bathrooms when someone is vaping.

Overall, I understand why the administration has to do these searches. However, the way in which I was approached made me incredibly anxious; therefore, I feel that this shouldn’t happen without more concrete and substantial evidence against the student for having a vape.