Eight vape detectors now installed at Fremont Middle School

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Following a large brawl on Feb. 5 at Fremont Middle School, officials with the Fremont Public Schools Board of Education were inundated at the Feb. 12 meeting of the board with comments from upset parents about various safety conditions at the middle school.

One of the more frequent complaints expressed that night was that vaping of both tobacco and cannabis was allegedly rampant in the middle school, supposedly being done in bathrooms, and was one reason for the growing safety worries many parents have.

Following those complaints, officials with FPS leapt into action quickly – installing a network of seven new vape detectors inside bathrooms at the middle school.

FPS Superintendent Mark Shepard said one detector was installed in the middle school as a pilot program test at the beginning of the current school year. Now, seven more are in place and working.

“Installation of the detectors for the other restrooms were approved by district administration in December 2023 and the detectors were ordered. Wiring and installation was completed the week of February 19-22 upon arrival,” Shepard said in an email to the Tribune. “Security cameras have been installed throughout the school campus for many years and there are cameras placed in areas to identify students entering and exiting the restrooms.”

The official name of the assorted sensors used to detect vaping is a health and environmental sensor. According to several vape detector company websites, the devices can detect vaping by analyzing air for chemicals commonly emitted by vape device users when they exhale, such as nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, cannabis or other trace chemicals.

Some vape detectors can also utilize advanced sensors that pick up the electromagnetic field that is emitted when a vaping device is used.

If one of the middle school vape detectors is triggered by vaping, Shepard said a text message alert and an email message is generated and transmitted to the middle school’s staff, which includes assorted administrators, the dean of students and school counselors, “indicating possible vaping detected in the designated restroom.”

Vaping is prohibited on all FPS campuses under the district’s Student Code of Conduct, which Shepard explained can lead to suspensions or expulsion if a student suspect is deemed to have violated the rules.

“We apply our Student Code of Conduct, which is a suspension or expulsion for vaping or having a vape cartridge in their possession. Typically (that is) three days out of school suspension for vaping or having a vape cartridge in their possession,” he said.

The Tribune requested statistics from the district of the number of vaping or possession of a vape device infractions in both the 2022-2023 school year and the entirety of the current 2023-2024 school year.

The most penalized grade level for vaping infractions in the past two school years was the eighth grade, with 79 total students receiving infractions. Ninth grade students were the second most punished with 51 infractions. The third highest grade level punished for vaping offenses was 11th graders, with 49 vaping offenses.

The lowest level of infractions for vaping was at the fifth grade level, with only two infractions issued in the nearly two-year time period.

Fremont High School had 171 vaping infractions issued from the start of the 2022 school year to present, while students in grades sixth through eighth — most of whom attend the Fremont Middle School — had 142 infractions from the start of the 2022 school year to present. Some sixth grade students attend Johnson Crossing Academic Center.

Shepard said the district is trying hard to curtail the vaping activities of students, and takes a collaborative, team approach to the issue.

“Fremont Public Schools works closely with our school social workers and local mental health practitioners to educate students on the dangers of vaping and assist students in getting help if there might be a chemical dependency problem,” he said. “In the short time we have had the vape detectors installed, we have had a reduction in the number of students disciplined for vaping at school.”