"Catch My Breath" program helps kids caught vaping at school

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - The “Catch My Breath” program was instituted in the Eau Claire Area School District in September.

Since that time, more than 80 middle and high school students have taken part in the program. According to Tim Wavrunek, the Eau Claire County Restorative Justice Program, it's designed as a way for kids to get facts about vaping and avoid legal trouble at an early age.

“While tobacco is still an issue, vaping far outpaces the use of tobacco in the schools and on school grounds,” Wavrunek said.

A collaboration between the Eau Claire Area School District, the Eau Claire Police Department and Eau Claire County Restorative Justice is giving kids a chance to avoid a potentially slippery slope.

“With the 'Catch My Breath' deferred citation process, the Eau Claire School District has actually made a district wide policy change so that vaping, in particular, is no longer handled as a law enforcement issue, but more as a school disciplinary issue.”

Since the program was implemented in September, dozens of students in middle and high school have been referred.

“So far we've had about 85 referrals to the program,” Wavrunek said. “Of those 85 referrals, 81-or-82 has completed the deferred citation process. Luckily we haven't had anyone who has not completed the program.”

In the past, if a student was caught vaping or with a vape at school, they were issued a $50 tobacco citation as well as given discipline by the school.

“If they chose the “Catch My Breath” program, that citation cost, in essence, is cut in half and paid to the restorative justice program, so that we can cover our cost to put on 'Catch My Breath,'” Wavrunek said. “They would pay a $25 fee and their citation would be deferred.

While they still may receive discipline from the district, it would also be deferred.

“Their day of suspension is deferred to the day we hold the program the program itself is so that they can get some science based information,” he said.

Wavrunek said the program gives kids one chance to make a change

“We don't want kids to be in trouble. This is a one shot deal for kids to divert themselves of legal or law enforcement contact,” he said. “The second offense would be treated as a tobacco offense.”

The program is specifically geared toward tobacco related vaping incidents. While the program is only in the Eau Claire Area School District, Wavrunek said he hopes to expand to other districts in the future.