A program in a local school district is helping kids caught vaping avoid legal trouble.

The Catch My Breath Program was instituted in the Eau Claire Area School District in September.

“While tobacco is still an issue vaping by far outpaces the use of tobacco in schools,” said Tim Wavrunek, Director of Eau Claire County Restorative Justice.

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

“With the Catch My Breath Program deferred citation process the Eau Claire district has made a district-wide policy change, so that vaping is no longer handled as a law enforcement issue but more as a school disciplinary issue,” Wavrunek said.

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 for the program,” Wavrunek said. “Of those 85 referrals, 81 or 82 have successfully completed the [Catch My Breath Program]. Luckily we haven’t had any who have not successfully completed [the program.] We have had a few no-shows.”

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 receiving disciplinary action by the school.

“If they choose the Catch My Breath Program, that citation cost, in essence, is cut by half. It’s paid to the Restorative Justice program, so that we cover costs to administer Catch My Breath,” Wavrunek said. “[The student] would pay a $25 fee and their tobacco citation would be deferred.”

While they still may receive discipline from the district, “Their day suspension is also deferred to the day that we hold the program,” said Wavrunek. “The program itself is so that they can get some science based information.”

Wavrunek says the program gives kids one chance to make a change.

“The second offense would be treated as a tobacco offense. This is a one shot deal for kids to divert themselves from that negative label of law enforcement contact.”