Vaping in schools on rise, CMCSS turns to ‘smart’ sensors in bathrooms

This article originally appeared on Clarksville Now. To view the original article, click here

CLARKSVILLE, TN (CLARKSVILLE NOW) – Vaping has continued to grow as a problem in Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools, putting teens at risk for developing nicotine addictions and potential health problems.

“We have seen an increase of students vaping, and a lot of it has been tobacco (nicotine), but kids have gone to some other things as well. It’s been more of a thing this year than it was last year for sure,” Rosalyn Evans, CMCSS director of high schools, told Clarksville Now.

To combat the issue, the school district has been looking at “smart” sensors that detect vaping, and is already installing them in some high school bathrooms.

On the rise

On March 1, the School Board was shown data about the frequency of school resource officers issuing civil citations or filing criminal charges for students found with vapes, with some incidences increasing over 80% since the 2019-20 school year.

Lauren Richmond, the district’s safety and health coordinator, presented statistics that showed vaping is on the rise across the whole district.

When comparing the current school year to 2019-20 — the last time students were in school full-time without interruption from August to March – all the numbers are up.

In the high schools, 147 tobacco and vaping citations have been issued this year, which is a 73% increase over 2019-20 when 85 were issued. 31 tobacco and vaping citations were issued this year in the middle schools, a 48% increase.

Sgt. Bishop Delaney, an SRO with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, told Clarksville Now that when students are found in possession of a vape pen with only nicotine in it, they are issued a civil citation.

According to state law, minors who are issued these citations may be issued a fine between $10 and $50 by the courts – which if they are under 18 is filed against a parent, guardian or custodian of that student – and they may have to do some community service.

THC vaping

Almost all of the tobacco charges were a result of vapes that contained nicotine, and not cigarettes or other forms of combustible tobacco. But when looking at the drug-related offenses, marijuana and THC seemed to be the biggest concern.

“We know with vaping, that some students might have THC or marijuana, so we did want to look at the drug-related offenses, and again we’re comparing this school year to two years ago,” Richmond told the board.

Across the high schools, drug-related offenses have increased 55% from 55 in 2019-20 to 85 so far this year.

There was a much larger increase in the middle schools. In 2019-20, only 4 charges were issued. This year, there’s been 25. That’s an 525% increase.

When students are found with vape pens that contain THC, a criminal charge is filed for simple possession. The district also has a zero tolerance policy on drugs, so a student found in possession of a THC vape is expelled for one calendar year.

“It is a deterrent for our kids, and especially for those who are getting older or who are 18, and getting ready to transition into their adulthood, it is a deterrent,” Evans said.

Halo sensors

The district is looking to get more technologically savvy in its efforts. Richmond told the board about a new type of sensor that can detect the vapor produced by nicotine or THC vapes.

The HALO Smart Sensor can be installed in areas such as bathrooms or locker rooms and alert SROs and school administration to any vaping or marijuana-related activity in areas with higher levels of privacy.

Richmond said three schools – West Creek High, Clarksville High and Rossview High – have installed HALO Smart Sensors in some of their bathrooms.

“I’ll just be glad when they’re in all of them,” Evans said.

The HALO Smart Sensor also detects and can alert school officials to gunshots, certain spoken keywords that can be programmed into the sensor like “help” or yelling, air quality and certain chemicals.

Richmond said the HALO devices have won over 50 awards, and their sensors are being used in 1,500 school districts around the country, adding that the district had applied for a $60,000 grant to put at least three sensors in each of the middle and high schools.