HAMILTON, TX — The Hamilton Independent School District is the first school district in Texas to drug test students for nicotine.
School leaders say they hope the testing regimen will help identify life-threatening problems before they become expensive and deadly.
When Central Texas News Now went to Hamilton High School, only one cigarette butt could be found in the parking lot.
Student Kaatja Jarrell says she sees her peers vaping instead of smoking cigarettes.
"Out of 5 friends, how many of them vape?" asked KXXV reporter Dennis Turner.
"Like, 2 or 3," replied Jarrell.
"That many? Where do they do it?" questioned Turner.
"In the bathroom mostly, or after school things or they go in their truck," explained Jarrell.
Hamilton ISD board members took notice and wanted action.
"We've been battling vaping in our schools for more than a year and a half now, and it came up in a board meeting discussion, and one of our board of trustees wanted to know if we could test for nicotine," explained Clay Tarpley, Superintendent of Hamilton ISD.
A call to the testing company came back with a yes, and the revelation that Hamilton ISD would become the company's second customer to do so.
"I think it will cut down on a lot of it: smoking, vaping, dipping," said Kaatja's mom, Krista.
Parents like the idea, but they may not like the penalty.
Since the new legal age for tobacco doesn't take effect in Texas until September 1, Hamilton ISD schools will roll out the policy gradually. During the fall semester, the penalty for finding nicotine in a student's body is a note home to their parents.
The board will hold public hearings in November before voting on penalties that will take effect January 1.
Superintendent Tarpley says Texas law, so far, offers no criminal penalty for having nicotine in your system, so the district will step carefully in its penalty talks. Meantime, he says school leaders want to help and not to punish.
"The whole drug testing policy is not a 'gotcha.' It gives our kids a reason to say no," he explained.
He says the schools will work to make sure students found with a nicotine problem get the help they need to "kick the habit."
And Kaatje's mom says Hamilton ISD schools will have parental support.
"We want our kids to be the best they possibly can be, and if that's part of it, that's what we're gonna do," she said.