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LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Lincoln East High School is putting vape detectors in its restrooms in a pilot program intended to crack down on vaping.
Ryan Zabawa, director of student services at Lincoln Public Schools, said the number of vaping devices found in schools has tripled in the last three years.
“This is an epidemic of great proportions that we really need to address on multiple fronts,” he said. “We have students all the way down to the elementary grades that are getting access to these devices.”
He said it’s not just unhealthy for kids; it’s become disruptive to class.
“What we’re finding out is they get addicted very quickly, and they can’t go very long without using that device,” he said. “We’re losing minutes in the classroom because those students who are addicted to nicotine need to get to the restrooms to use their device. ”
Zabawa said the detectors can tell the difference between nicotine and THC. They can also single out those chemicals even if they’re covered up by air fresheners or body sprays.
When nicotine or THC is detected, administrators at the school will be notified and will speak with students who were in the restroom at the time.
Zabawa said he anticipates students moving to other places to vape, like parking lots or off campus, but this pilot program will help officials determine what more needs to be done.
Last spring, LPS spoke with Grand Island Public Schools, which Zabawa said saw “great success” with its pilot program.
Anyone found vaping or with a vape product on them can participate in the Vape Educate program, a five-hour course that teaches kids about vaping.
Lincoln East Principal Casey Fries said it’s not just about catching and punishing students, but also helping them quit.
“I’m not sure we fully grasp the addiction problems that they have with it,” he said. “It really is a community effort, both as a school and the parents as well as the community organizations, to help some of our young students.”
In a message sent to families last week, Fries also said that vaping is dangerous — and illegal for anyone under 21.
He also specified that the detectors won’t record video, audio or any personal identifying information.
The message included resources to help students quit vaping.
The detectors are being paid for with $995,000 of the $1.3 million LPS obtained in the class-action settlement against Juul Labs.
Each device costs $1,200 a piece, and so far, there are 25 installed at Lincoln East.
The pilot program will last until the end of the year.
If it goes well, LPS will install them at all high schools and some middle schools.
LPS will also hold a community awareness event about the dangers of vaping on Oct. 19.