District unveils new tech in schools

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(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) For years, we’ve heard from community members and school board candidates express concern about how the St. Joseph School District is handling behavior problems in its buildings.

One way is some new technology, installed in four schools.

It may not look like much but officials with the school district say these new detectors are making a big difference in the high schools.

“This is just one more layer to what we think best meets the needs of our students for the safety and security and our staff,” Dr. Robert Sigrist, Director of Non-Academic Services said. 

Installed throughout the high schools and Webster, the district has spent $180,000 on sensors that can detect loud noises like potential vandalism, fights in the bathrooms.

Or if someone is feeling unsafe or needs help, they can easily trigger the device.

“If a teacher happened to have a fight going on in a hallway you know in the past it was like trying to find somebody to, ‘hey go get somebody.’ Well, now they could step into the bathroom and say, ‘Halo Emergency.’ It’s going to immediately alert our SROs, our campus safety supervisors, our administrators, so they know there’s something at the location,” Dr. Sigrist said.

The other top feature is they are vape detectors.

“The vaping issue, it’s a big one,” Dr. Sigrist said.

Dr. Sigrist says some of the vapes brought to school have THC in them, purchased at local gas stations. Just one reason they are hoping to stop this before it escalates.

“It’s a community issue right now that you know fake prescription drugs, marijuana, and vapes are being laced with fentanyl. Which, you know is a very deadly situation and something we are very concerned about too,” Dr. Sigrist said.

Dr. Sigrist says the sensors help detect and deter these behaviors.

If smoke, loud noises, or someone asks for help, staff get a time and location stamped alert that they can cross-reference with cameras.

“This was something our administrators were already spending a lot of time on but it does help narrow down and give them an idea of the when and where, which makes it more efficient in the long run,” Dr. Sigrist said.

Administrators say they’ve been so successful, other schools want some too.

“The middle school administrators, they’re asking for this,” Dr. Sigrist said.

And the district is working with the school board to make it happen.

“They are excited about the ability to have this as one more tool for them to maybe help you know try to deter them and monitor and take care of this behavior,” Dr. Sigrist said.

The sensors also detect chemicals or changes in humidity.

Dr. Sigrist says if the district had these prior to the pandemic shutting down the schools, these sensors may have detected the mold issues, alerting district officials, and saved money.