ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Albemarle County Public Schools changed a policy with its middle schools this year to get students more counseling help for substance abuse.
This year, the school system decided to stop suspending middle school students who are caught with drugs, alcohol or e-cigarettes. Instead, they're going to be referred to a counseling program called STEP.
Nicholas King, director of student services for Albemarle County Public Schools, hopes the policy change can help students change their behavior.
"A suspension itself doesn't really change student behavior. What changes student behavior is helping them understand the behaviors they're engaged in," King said. "Rather than suspending them for an extended period of time, assigning them to our STEP program, which is an alternative to suspension."
The change comes as the school system battles a nationwide epidemic with teens using e-cigarettes.
Last year, Albemarle High School reported a big increase in students using vaping devices, including JUULs.
While students are going through the STEP program, King said students can also work through the Teen Intervene program, a national evidence program that provides exercises for counselors and parents to use with their students.
"It's talking with kids about their reasons for using, what they might need to help stop using, what their goals might be and really involving the parent in that conversation," said Emily Warren, director of prevention at Region Ten.
Warren said Teen Intervene provides great resources to help curve addiction for kids who start smoking at an early age.
"We have heard of kids as young as in elementary schools using things like vapes and other substances, unfortunately," she said. "The sooner we can get people to treatment, the better their outcomes are to prevent an addiction from happening."
With this policy, King also hopes parents and their kids will understand the potentially dangerous health effects e-cigarettes could have on future generations.
"It's becoming more and more clear now that the use of these devices is really detrimental for our young people," King said.
The suspension policy was only lifted in Albemarle middle schools.
School leaders hope to implement this policy in high schools in the near future.