Keeping Students Safe and Healthy in Body and Mind

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Winter 2020

Stanley C. Mantooth, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools


Keeping Students Safe and Healthy in Body and Mind

Ensuring that our students are safe and our schools secure is fundamental to the job of educators. It’s as a job that’s become more challenging in recent years for a variety of reasons. School shootings have become a horrifying reality of American life. The growing popularity of vaping among teens carries serous heath risks. And student mental health issues are on the rise as young people and their families struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing world. In this edition of Focus on Education, we take a look at the ways Ventura County schools are responding to these issues so all students can have the opportunity to learn and thrive at school.  


Stan Mantooth

Ventura County Superintendent of Schools



Combating Vaping on Campus Takes on New Urgency

First the good news: cigarette use among Ventura County students has been steadily dropping over the past several years. But unfortunately, it’s been dramatically surpassed by the number of students use vaping devices (also known as e-cigarettes, electronic products or e-products). You can see the trends for Ventura County 11th graders in this chart: 



"Cigarettes aren’t seen as cool anymore," says Gabe Teran, who leads youth development programming in tobacco use prevention and education at the Ventura County Office of Education. "Vaping is new and different and there’s the additional layer of having these sweet flavors that traditional tobacco products don’t have."


Teran says students are aware of the health risks of cigarette smoking, but have a misperception that vaping is safer. Like cigarettes, vaping exposes users to nicotine, which is addictive and can interfere with normal adolescent brain development. In an analysis conducted by Stanford Medicine, it was found that the amount nicotine from a single Juul vaping pod is equivalent to the level of nicotine found in 41 cigarettes. There are also links to nicotine use and future addiction to other drugs. 


What's in E-cigarette Aerosol?

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention





New Laws Target Flavored Vaping Products


New laws at the federal, state and local levels are taking aim at youth vaping. The sale of flavored vaping products was recently banned by local ordinances in much of Ventura County. The federal government also recently announced a ban on most flavored vaping pods, but it includes controversial exceptions for flavored vaping liquid as well as menthol and tobacco flavored pods. California lawmakers are now considering a tougher law that would eliminate those exceptions statewide.


Educating students about the dangers of vaping is the other piece of the puzzle. Mot Ventura County school districts have tobacco education programs that are increasingly focusing on vaping prevention. They include anti-vaping presentations for students, parents and school staff. Some local schools have also installed detectors in school bathrooms that alert administrators when vaping devices are being used.


Teran is optimistic that the battle against youth vaping can be won, pointing to the huge success of anti-smoking efforts over the years. He says, “It’s proven that consistent messaging, education, prevention work, and having everybody in alignment with the same message really does work.”


More information about local student tobacco use prevention programs is available at



A Multipronged Approach to Preventing School Shootings

Columbine. Sandy Hook. Parkland. They’re names we know for all the wrong reasons. But the tragedies that occurred at these sites and others have provided important lessons in preventing future school shootings.


“In eighty percent of all school shootings, the suspect told somebody ahead of time that they were going to do it,” says Thousand Oaks Police Chief James Fryhoff, who has been a leader in local efforts to prevent school shootings for more than a decade. Fryhoff says brushing off such talk as unimportant is a big mistake. “When these kids say that they're about to do something stupid or bad and an adult doesn't definitively tell them not to do it, you basically gave them permission.”


Fryhoff says its critical for school staff, parents and students to be alert to the warning signs that often precede an act of school violence. “The majority of these shooters are not kids who just snap. These are well-thought-out and planned attacks where they do a substantial amount of research ahead of time. They acquire weapons, they come up with their plan, and then they take action.” Students are increasingly getting the message that they need to speak up if they get wind of a potential threat.


Threat Assessment


The process of doing everything possible to detect and deter a school shooting before it happens is known as “threat assessment.” Fryhoff recommends that schools create a multidisciplinary team - consisting of administrators, teachers, counselors and law enforcement. Team members are people students know they can talk to if they need to report a concern. The team is also tasked with assessing which students are potential risks and quickly intervening when red flags appear. “The reality is almost every child has risk factors,” Fryhoff says. “The question is how many do they have and what level of resiliency do they have to deal with these risk factors on their own?”


Run. Hide. Fight.



While there’s a growing emphasis on prevention, it’s also important that students and school personnel know how to respond if the worst should happen. That’s why active shooter drills and trainings have become commonplace. The standard advice is to run to safety when possible, hide if running won’t work, and be ready to fight as a last resort. Which option is best depends on the circumstances. “What I don't want to happen is people to just sit still and become victims,” Fryhoff says.


Ultimately, it’s the combination of prevention and preparation that will do the most to stop tragedies before they happen and maximize safety if they do.  



Student Mental Health Getting the Attention it Deserves

Whether it’s trouble at home, conflicts with friends or even worries about world affairs, there is no shortage of stressors impacting the mental health of today’s students. The particulars can vary widely – from a child whose family struggles to put food on the table to an overachiever worried about getting into the right college. Whatever the cause, ensuring students’ mental health needs are being addressed is a growing concern among Ventura County educators.


“We can’t be responsible for what happens at home, but we can help once they get to school,” says Claudia Frandsen, Director of Leadership Support Services at the Ventura County Office of Education. She says the most serious types of trauma students face are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs. They fall into three broad categories: abuse, neglect and household dysfunction.



Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


Frandsen is a leader in local efforts to make schools more aware of students who are dealing with excessive stress or trauma and to give them the tools to respond. “Teachers don’t have to be therapists, they just need to listen,” she says. “Having a relationship with a caring adult can make a world of difference for a student.” 


In education lingo, the process of teaching students the life skills they need to manage their emotions and relationships is called Social Emotional Learning or SEL. It’s being embraced because of its many benefits from increased academic achievement to reduced bullying to improved self-esteem. 


To help bring more happiness to our students, some districts are building SEL into their curriculum. One technique that allows students to be heard is a talking circle in which students take turns sharing and listening. In addition, teachers are learning to give students strategies to deal with their stress. For example, students who have anxiety over their grades or college prospects can benefit from a change of mindset. “Students think that succeeding causes happiness, but the research clearly shows that happiness causes success,” Frandsen says.


Many schools are also rethinking their approach to discipline, with a heightened focus on accountability and conflict resolution rather than punishment. Known as Restorative Justice, it empowers students to resolve conflicts with each other. It’s been shown to reduce suspensions and build school environments where students feel happier and safer.


The Ventura County Office of Education provides a variety of workshops and training to help schools better address student mental health issues. Our monthly Social and Emotional Learning Community of Practice meetings in Camarillo are free and open to everyone, including counselors, teachers and parents. If you’d like to attend, contact Claudia Frandsen at



Vaccinations are Crucial for Students and the Community

The US is experiencing an alarming increase in measles with 1,282 cases reported in 2019 - nearly four times as many as the year before. So far, Ventura County has been spared, and local schools are playing a key role in keeping measles and other infectious diseases at bay.


Most Ventura County schools have vaccination rates of at least 95 percent, which is considered the amount required to prevent the spread of a disease. Many of the highest vaccination rates are at schools with a large percentage of Latino students. But there are a small number of local schools with dangerously low vaccination rates. “The lower immunization rates are usually in more affluent neighborhoods,” says Dawn Anderson, who is in charge of student health at the Ventura County Office of Education. According to data from the California Department of Public Health, many of the lowest school vaccination rates in Ventura County are found in charter schools and private schools.


California K-12 School Immunization Requirements

Click the Chart for More Details



In some ways, vaccinations are a victim of their own success. Many of today’s parents never personally experienced the devastating effects of diseases like measles, mumps, pertussis and polio on family members; so they don’t feel the urgency to vaccinate that older generations of parents did. 


While links to autism and childhood vaccinations have been thoroughly disproved, there are some parents who cling to unfounded fears. Anderson says there’s little that can be done to change their minds, but stricter rules can change behavior. If a school experiences an outbreak, unvaccinated students can be prohibited from coming to campus for days or even weeks. That tends to prompt parents to get their kids vaccinated. 


Anderson says it’s important for parents to realize that choosing not to vaccinate affects more than their own kids. Most schools have students who can’t be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons, and their risk of infection increases as the school’s vaccination rate drops.


New Laws Boost Vaccination Effort

The vaccination effort in California is getting a boost from state laws. In 2015, after a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland, the state eliminated school vaccination exemptions for personal and religious reasons. And starting this January, the state began cracking down on fraudulent medical exemptions. It’s now reviewing exemptions at schools where fewer than 95 percent of students are vaccinated. It also prohibits doctors from charging for medical exemptions and will review exemptions from doctors who approve five or more in a year. 


Fact sheets about the latest vaccination requirements for California students are available from the California Department of Public Health in English and Spanish. You can also find comprehensive information about the state's school immunization program at