GILBERT, AZ — It wasn't as much of a problem in the 2016-2017 school year.
Higley Unified School District officials say there were a total of 21 tobacco violations at Higley High School that year, 15 at Williams Field High School.
That number skyrocketed the following school year, after the boom of vaping products, according to school administrators.
137 students were found using tobacco-like products on campus during the 2017-2018 school year at both schools combined. 19 students did it several times.
These numbers were presented at Higley Unified School District's Governing Board meeting on February 12, alongside reduced numbers this school year, showing the number of students found smoking or vaping on campus went down to 35.
Despite official statistics, the problem persists.
"I guess some kids just think it’s like the cool thing to do," said Harold Sims, a Junior at Higley High School. "Everybody has a "puff bar". There will be kids in the back of classrooms, kids just in their backpacks on the way to class just like hitting the puff bar in the hallways, and the teachers won’t even notice.”
The statistics don't provide a full picture of the issue, some governing board members argued.
"There's a huge drop, and I'd like to believe it's because they're not [vaping], but I think they are." said Kristina Reese, Vice President of Higley Unified School District's Governing Board. "They've just caught on to some things, they've just changed their behavior, not to the point that they're not doing it, they've just changed their behavior where they're not getting caught."
The discussion before the board last week brought forward plans to continue to prevent and take further action against vaping on campus, hoping to crack down and identify students who are breaking the rules.
"On average, like during fourth hour, everybody is vaping during lunch and stuff so it’s like they had to do something about it.”
Administrators at Higley High School and Williams Field High School have been conducting bathroom sweeps between classes and issuing hallway-specific hallway passes, to limit access to bathrooms to areas closest to a student’s classroom and prevent them from wandering campus.
They've also begun limiting bathroom access to one student per classroom at a time, and restricting use the first and last 10 minutes of every school day.
Sims told ABC15 he watched administrators take swift action on a group of students seen crowding inside a bathroom Thursday.
"They took down names and they made them stay in there and they got called into the office one-by-one till they could figure out what was happening in there and why there were so many people," he said.
However, school officials say they plan to take prevention one step further. Both Higley and Williams Field High Schools will soon be installing security cameras outside every bathroom on campus, to better monitor who goes in and out, and at what time.
Right now, officials say many students are doing the right thing and reporting vaping on campus, but it's tough for administrators to catch the suspected students.
"If there’s somebody in the bathroom stall acting like they’re using the restroom, how do you know what they’re doing?" added Sims.
Administrators at Higley High School also say they plan to lock certain bathrooms on campus, depending on the time of day. Right now, Williams Field High is already doing so, keeping students from having access to multiple options, keeping them closer to supervised areas.
"I’m sick and tired of going into the bathroom and every time a security guard walks in I get harassed and asked 'What are you doing?' said Sims. "I guess everybody else wants to mess up a good thing for everybody, it’s kind of just like annoying at this point, so locks sound good to me.”
In addition, district officials say consequences will also become more strict. First-time offenders will receive a referral and could face in-school suspension, or be forced to attend Saturday classes. If they receive a second referral, they could also be at risk of receiving a police citation.