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US schools investing millions on surveillance tech to address vaping epidemic

  • Schools across the country have invested millions of dollars in surveillance technology to combat vaping.
  • E-cigarettes, which have a higher nicotine concentration than traditional cigarettes, are becoming popular in middle schools and high schools.
  • Some schools are combining e-cigarette sensors with surveillance cameras to film students coming out of the restroom when the sensor is activated.

When Aaliyah Iglesias was caught vaping at her Texas high school, she didn't realize how much money would be taken from her.

Suddenly, the rest of her high school career is threatened: her role as student body president, captain of the debate team, and her commencement address. Even her college scholarship was in jeopardy. She was sent to the district's alternative school for 30 days and was told she could face criminal charges.

Like thousands of other students across the country, she was caught by surveillance devices installed by her school to crack down on vaping, often without informing students.

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Schools across the country are investing millions of dollars in monitoring technology, including federal COVID-19 testing designed to help schools weather the pandemic and help students recover academically. It also includes emergency relief funds. Marketing materials say the sensors cost more than $1,000 each and could help fight viruses by checking air quality.

A Massachusetts high school principal is displaying e-cigarettes confiscated from students in bathrooms and hallways. Schools across the country are installing sensors and cameras to crack down on students who smoke e-cigarettes, with many caught receiving harsh penalties. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

E-cigarettes are flooding into middle schools and high schools. This device can emit vapor containing higher concentrations of nicotine than cigarettes. Despite efforts to raise the legal age to 21, limit sales to children, and ban flavored products favored by teens, millions of minors still vape. Reporting.

Some districts are combining sensors with surveillance cameras. Activated by a vape sensor, these cameras can capture every student coming out of the bathroom.

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Students may be surprised to find out that such technology exists in their schools. Iglesias, who graduated in May from Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas, first learned about the sensors at his school when an administrator came into the restroom when students started vaping.

“I was in awe,” Iglesias said. Administrators tried to determine who was involved, but ultimately released all of the students.

The episode that got her into trouble happened elsewhere in Texas last February at Athens High School, where her debate team was competing. Iglesias went into the bathroom to smoke her e-cig. Later that day, her coach told her she had been caught.

“I decided to take part in something that I'm not proud of, but I did it,” Iglesias said, adding that her senior year was a stressful time and a close family member of hers was about to be released from prison. Ta. She said: “There was a lot of personal stuff piling up outside.”

She was immediately removed from the debate tournament, and her coach told her that she could face charges because she was 18 years old. She was sent to the district's alternative school for 30 days, which was the minimum punishment for students caught vaping under Tyler's zero-tolerance policy.

Students caught vaping can also face misdemeanor charges and fines of up to $100. Students who are found in possession of e-cigarettes containing THC, the chemical that makes marijuana users feel high, could be arrested on a felony charge. At least 90 students have been charged with misdemeanors or felonies in Tyler.

The Tyler district declined to comment on disciplinary action, saying in a written statement that it addresses child health concerns by tracking e-cigarette use.

“The e-cigarette detector effectively detected when a student was vaping, and we were able to immediately address the issue,” the school system said.

HALO Smart Sensors, a leading provider, sells 90% to 95% of its sensors to schools. Rick Kadiz, vice president of sales and marketing for IPVideo, the maker of the HALO sensor, said the sensor doesn't have a camera or audio recording, but it can detect an increase in noise in school restrooms and alert schools. It is possible to send alerts to relevant parties via text.

The sensor is primarily marketed to detect e-cigarette smoke and THC, but it can also monitor sounds such as gunshots or keywords that could indicate bullying.

“What the school district and we are looking at is this is trying to stop the use of e-cigarettes in schools, but we don't want a $1,000 paperweight that schools won't invest in other uses, right?” Cadiz said. “We want to make it a long-term investment.”

During the pandemic, HALO noted on its website that indoor air quality monitoring was an approved use for federal coronavirus relief funds.

“HALO smart sensors can help schools fight COVID-19 and create safe work and learning environments, while also providing benefits such as e-cigarette detection and security monitoring,” the company said. Says.

Cadiz said schools now have access to a portion of the roughly $440 million Juul Laboratories is paying to settle lawsuits alleging that the company sold products to young people.

Cadiz said the company is aware of privacy concerns regarding the sensor.

“It's just a warning that something is going on,” he says. “We need someone to physically investigate the alerts that occur.”

Sensors do not always function as expected by administrators.

In California's San Dieguito Union High School District, e-cigarette smoke got so thick in the bathroom that some students found it unbearable. In a pilot program, the district installed e-cigarette sensors in bathrooms and cameras outside doors.

“In some ways, it was too successful,” said District Commissioner Michael Allman, explaining that the sensors were activated so frequently that administrators felt it was pointless to check the security footage every time.

On social media, students across the country are explaining how to outsmart the sensors. Some people report covering it with plastic wrap. Some people even blow smoke into their clothes.

Coppell Independent School District in Texas is deploying sensors as part of a prevention strategy that includes educational videos and alerts. Jennifer Villins, the district's director of student and faculty services, said students could receive $50 for reporting e-cigarette use by a co-worker and that “students were looking left and right at each other.” .

Students could be sent to alternative schools or suspended from school, but they would not be expelled for vaping, she said.

“We want our kids to be here. If they're not here, they're not learning,” Virines said. “In some cases, we feel that this behavior is a coping mechanism, and we want to keep them in an environment where they learn to self-regulate.”

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Consequences for Iglesias included having to resign as student body president and debate captain, and withdraw from the National Honor Society. At the Alternative School where she spent her month, students have regular classes, but they are not attending classes and there is no guarantee that they will have the materials included in the regular classes.

Iglesias still attended prom, attended graduation, and was able to remain in most clubs. She also maintained a college scholarship and she currently attends Tyler Junior College.

For her, the punishment for vaping is too much.

“The people who create these policies and do these things have the ability to sit in rooms and walk around campus and see the outcomes and results of the policies that they create to make sure that the policies are actually working. There’s no way to do that, because it’s not really working,” Iglesias said. . “The repercussions I faced were terrible and I will never do anything like that again.”

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