School toilets are being closed through the day to stop pupils vaping, a councillor claimed at a West Lothian Council education meeting.
The claim, backed up by another community representative, was refuted by the council’s head of secondary education, Siobhan McGarty.
It is understood Armadale Academy has seen toilets closed to deal with the vaping issue.
Doubts continued following questions raised after the meeting by Armadale’s Independent councillor Stuart Borrowman about the town’s Academy.
SNP councillor Moira McKee-Shemilt told the Education Policy and Development Scrutiny Panel (PDSP) this week: “Anecdotal information would suggest that the use of e-cigarettes and vaporisers is becoming more endemic in schools and I know of one school that’s closing the toilets during the day to stop pupils vaping. Is this right and is there an increase in schools?”
McGarty said: “We are not closing toilets through the school day, we can’t do that. But we are trying to manage that situation and youngsters do veer towards those types of areas, and outwith the school.
“We are working very closely with our young people in terms of supporting them, in terms of understanding the nature of what they’re doing and the dangers associated with vaping products.
“I think they believe that it’s safer than using cigarettes. There’s a lot of work to be done in that regard and we’re working with them through our PSE (personal and social education) programmes.”
Councillor McKee-Shemilt admitted that it was “news to me” that teenagers would take up using vaping products, adding that she believed that they were only used by smokers as an alternative to cigarettes, rather than being an attraction in their own right.
She said: “That was my naivety. I really thought people took up vaping in order to stop smoking. It was quite news to me that young people were starting to vape as a first instance and, of course, we don’t really know what the effects of that are going to be.”
Another member of the committee, Leona Mullarky representing the Joint Forum of Community Councils, disputed McGarty’s assertion that school toilets were not closed.
She told the meeting that the vaping products should not be available to under 18s and therefore should be confiscated.
She added: “Some schools are indeed shutting toilets because of vaping.
“Pupils are being told that they don’t have the staff to find out who the vapers are, so toilets are therefore being closed.”
Councillor Borrowman raised questions with senior education staff about toilet closure policy following the meeting.
A response from McGarty said: “Further to the conversation yesterday at PDSP, toilets in our schools are accessible to students. Sometimes, a set of toilets may require closure for a short time as a repair is needed, but other toilets remain open. I am aware of local issues in one of the secondary schools and I am working with the headteacher on this. I have also sent a briefing to the headteachers to remind them that toilets should be open. I am happy to discuss this further with councillor Borrowman.”
Councillor Borrowman told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the discussion at the PDSP “seems to have caused a stir.”
He added: “I’m not sure the education department policy is always being adhered to.”