Feb 28 2023

More Schools Install Vape Sensors as Part of a Holistic Safety Strategy

K–12 districts are putting environmental sensors in their middle school and high school bathrooms to detect nicotine and THC use.

As K–12 schools work to build a comprehensive security strategy for keeping students safe, many districts are including environmental sensors in that plan. These sensors detect nicotine and THC, and they’re becoming increasingly popular in middle schools and high schools as a way for districts to enforce their policies on drug, cigarette and vape use.

As vaping implements become more sophisticated, they are harder for school officials to detect on students. Many are easy to conceal due to their small or slender shape, and some look like pens. Sensors eliminate the need to see a device, relying instead on the ability to detect vapors.

Frequently, these sensors are installed in bathrooms, one of the most common areas where students vape. Sensors can also be installed in common areas or hallways, but large spaces allow the vapors to disperse, and crowded areas can make it difficult to pinpoint which student is using when the vapors are detected.

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Schools Can Choose Who Is Notified of Vaping and How

Once schools install the environmental sensors and detect vaping, there are typically three ways they set up notifications.

One way is to set the system to email school staff or safety personnel. It’s possible to set up local notifications to alert a school administrator, for example, or schools can set up district-level notifications. These typically go to a security emergency management department.

The second way to set up notifications is to make the environmental sensors part of the school’s video management system (VMS). For this method, the sensors are tied to cameras on the school’s network, which allows school leadership to visually identify students who may be involved when vaping is detected. For example, if a camera is placed outside of the bathroom, the admins can see who entered the bathroom before the sensor sent out a notification and call those students down to the office for further investigation.

The cameras required for a VMS must be new enough to connect to the district’s network, but they don’t generally need advanced software capabilities. As schools upgrade their security systems, they can look into next-generation security cameras that will allow them to receive this type of notification.

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A third notification method is live monitoring, which involves having someone at the district level or in the building monitoring the cameras in real time.

Sensors Give Schools an Opportunity to Remediate Through Education

Although many schools have updated their policies to prohibit electronic cigarettes and vaping, questions remain about what to do with students who are caught violating the rules.

A popular approach has been to educate students, rather than suspend them. School leaders often choose to teach students and their parents about the consequences of vaping after an infraction. One district set up a substance abuse class for students to take after they’d been caught vaping or using THC in the restrooms or on school grounds.

Educating students and parents about the dangers of vaping is important because there is concern about how the drugs impact brain development — specifically, the potential for cognitive and behavioral impairments — and respiratory harm. A lot of students think vaping is less harmful than cigarettes, but as more research comes out, it’s becoming clear that vaping is very dangerous for adolescents.

For schools looking to revamp their physical security suite of technologies, CDW strategists offer support from beginning to end. They’ll do a site visit and a needs assessment, then will go through the different technologies, provide price points and suggest vendors based on the school district’s specific needs.

This article is part of the “ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

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