School Districts Use Technology To Curb Student Vaping On Campus

School Districts Use Technology To Curb Student Vaping On Campus
School Districts Use Technology To Curb Student Vaping On Campus

Tim Skoog keeps an unusual collection in his office at Franklin Regional School District.

As the district’s director of safety and security, Skoog has confiscated hundreds of e-cigarette cartridges, or vapes, for his “vape graveyard” — a reminder of his efforts to decrease e-cigarette use on campus.

“You really don’t see kids smoking anymore. They just vape,” Skoog said of the shift from teens smoking traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarette devices.

Data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration supports Skoog’s observations.

More than 1 in 4 youths, just over 2 million, use e-cigarettes daily, according to results from its 2023 Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey.

The same survey showed e-cigarette use overall among students last year was about 10%, or roughly half of what it was in 2018, when use peaked among students at almost 21%. Even with that decline, e-cigarette use is almost 10 times the rate reported in 2011.

In Pennsylvania, 1 in 5 high school students used tobacco products, with vaping products leading the list, according to a 2024 Pennsylvania Department of Health fact sheet analyzing data from a 2021 statewide survey.

The aerosol produced by an e-cigarette contains nicotine, flavoring or other potentially harmful chemicals. Illegal vapes can contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

To combat teen vaping, more Pennsylvania school districts are turning to technology that detects vaping chemicals in the air.

Franklin Regional installed 12 vape detectors inside high school bathrooms after fielding complaints from concerned parents.

“It’s definitely reduced usage, and our detectors can detect THC, vape and gunshots,” said Skoog, who fields alerts from the detectors via an app on his phone that also goes to select school administrators.

Statistics were not available on how many districts in the state use vape detectors.

“We don’t track vaping detectors or vaping policy at schools,” said Taj Magruder, Department of Education press secretary.

Sean Stipp | TribLive

Tim Skoog, director of safety and security at Franklin Regional School District, shows a collection of confiscated vapes he keeps in his office at the high school. The school has installed detectors that alert security when vaping is detected.

Tobacco products, including vapes, are illegal for anyone younger than 21 in Pennsylvania. The only exception is for those 18 or older and in the military or a veteran. But state Rep. Abby Major, R-Leechburg, said Pennsylvania doesn’t have a law requiring vape detectors in schools.

“It’s up to the school district to enact further policy to prevent vaping at school and determining if vape detectors are something that fits into their budget,” Major said.

Riverview School District installed vaping detectors at its high school in 2021.

“In light of increasing concerns about the impact of vaping on student health, the district has taken a proactive stance,” Superintendent Neil English said.

The sensors are installed in areas beyond the reach of the district’s security cameras.

“To preserve the effectiveness of this measure, we don’t disclose their locations,” English said.

Riverview staff completed additional comprehensive training on vaping topics last week.

“We take this issue seriously and do our very best to encourage our students to make knowledgeable and healthy choices for the benefit of their physical, social and mental well-being,” English said.

Highlands High School installed vaping sensors in student restrooms in 2023.

Assistant Superintendent Cathleen Cubelic said the devices arrived preassembled and were easily installed in middle and high school bathrooms.

“While we continue to educate students on the health risks associated with vaping, we feel the installation of the detectors serves as an effective addition to our school safety measures,” she said.

Parents call for detectors

For Plum High School parent Sergio Robledo, the issue of vaping hit home when his daughter fainted at Plum High School, hit her head and required a trip to UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Piecing together what happened, Robledo said his daughter was vaping with others in a girls bathroom and began to feel lightheaded in class. She requested to go to the nurses office and was en route when she collapsed, hitting her head.

“My concern with vaping began then,” Robledo said. “We need to think about our children, their futures and their mental health and overall health, and I’m advocating for more awareness, education and vape monitors to be installed in all bathrooms in the high school.”

Robledo, a licensed nurse, appeared at a Plum School Board meeting to raise awareness and call for vape detectors in the district.

“Apparently, vaping is a known thing and nothing has been done since,” he wrote in an email to district administrators that he shared with TribLive. “Kids are vaping in between classes, at times hiding vaping paraphernalia up behind the ceiling tiles in some of the restrooms. ”

Robledo said he spoke with the high school’s principal, Patrick Baughman, who told him it would be too costly to install vape detectors in all of the high school’s bathrooms.

Robledo said he also was told by Walsh that the district has concerns over the accuracy of the detectors and the privacy of students.

Neither Baughman nor Plum Superintendent Rick Walsh responded to requests for comment for this story.

Parent Sandy Koski-Hays of West Deer is concerned about what she said is an ongoing vaping problem at the middle and high schools in the Deer Lakes School District.

“My son says it happens everyday, all day, and the kids share each other’s vapes and have no clue what’s in them,” Hays said. “It’s not just nicotine. It’s THC as well.”

Hays said she’s asked district officials “several times” for vaping detectors to be installed in all of the school bathrooms but, so far, it hasn’t happened.

Deer Lakes spokesman Shawn Anarelli said the district adheres to school board policies that prohibit student tobacco and vaping use and can carry penalties up to and including suspension or even expulsion, but he did not comment on the district’s stance on vaping detectors.

More detectors coming

Vaping detectors range in price from around $500 to $1,000 each, with battery-operated capabilities.

Skoog plans to install more vape detectors this summer at Franklin Regional.

He declined to reveal where the new detectors will be placed, and he hopes to tackle the middle school next.

“When we first installed them, we did a test, had them in two bathrooms. It just took off, and we realized that we had a lot of students vaping. We would catch them, and they would get suspended for one to three days. It’s definitely a nationwide trend, and we saw the need for the (detectors),” Skoog said.

He estimates the detectors have curbed on-campus vaping at Franklin Regional by about 30%.

“I show the parents the vapes. They’re surprised we have them, but are pleased that it’s working,” Skoog said.

Doug Rodgers, Leechburg Area School District’s middle and high school principal, said his district has vape detectors in student bathrooms but doesn’t rely solely on them.

The district’s school resource officers complete random checks of the restrooms at various times throughout the school day, and administrators periodically stop in restrooms, maintaining an element of surprise.

“(The detectors) alert administration and security to the particular restroom, and we can then check the cameras (in the hallway) to see who was in the restroom at that particular time,” Rodgers said.

Joyce Hanz is a native of Charleston, S.C. and is a features reporter covering the Pittsburgh region. She majored in media arts and graduated from the University of South Carolina. She can be reached at [email protected]



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