Sharyland cracks down on student vaping

Sharyland ISD is among the many school systems nationwide trying to stop students from vaping or smoking e-cigarettes on campus. At the Dec. 19 board of trustees meeting, the board approved a contract for vape detectors. 

Out of eight proposals, the board agreed to a $142,789 contract with Howard Technologies to install the detectors — money SISD will pull from the general fund. The other bids included companies Janga and Waypoint, but their proposed solution was incompatible with the district’s current security camera system. And although TelePro had the lowest cost, their product was not the most up-to-date model on the market. 

The product Sharyland ISD will use is called a Halo Smart Sensor. It is a monitor that pinpoints abnormalities in air quality, such as particles containing nicotine, THC and other chemicals. With the devices, SISD officials will receive real-time health index reporting to document a building’s health status. Additional features include gunshot detection, noise alerts and emergency keyword alerting through audio analysis.   

The sensors do not have cameras or live audio recordings, but the idea is to discourage vaping on school grounds because they track activity. The monitors are not tamper-proof, but the system immediately alerts the district when someone attempts to meddle with the device. 

“It looks like a smoke detector but…it’s very advanced,” Director of Technology David Culberson said. “It has quite a few sensors attached to it and they do roll out firmware updates for it.” 

Since 2014, e-cigarettes and vape pens have gained popularity among middle school and high school students in the United States, according to a study the CDC released in October 2022. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, and many companies flavor their products to appeal to a broader audience. 

In the study, researchers from the CDC and FDA looked at responses from a 2022 National Youth Tobacco survey and found more than 2.5 million middle and high schoolers use e-cigarettes both in their free time and at school. To combat the issue, school districts everywhere have turned to vape detectors. 

In 2022 alone, school districts in Texas, Iowa, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Michigan, Alabama and Ohio installed the sensors. Montgomery ISD near Houston and Tyler ISD are among two Texas school districts to join the trend.  

Until recently, retailers could sell some e-cigarettes or vapes to people under age 21 because they contained synthetic nicotine; FDA law only specified regulations for tobacco-derived nicotine. However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 addressed the blind spot and gave the FDA authority to regulate nicotine from any source, including synthetic. 

All states have varying e-cigarette regulations. But in November 2022, California passed a law prohibiting the sale of flavored nicotine to deter younger users. 

As for Sharyland ISD, the leaders are hopeful the Halo sensor will discourage students from smoking in school and altogether. 

“As a district, I don’t know if we can ever do something foolproof 100% but I think this is a good move,” trustee Alejandro Rodriguez said. “And vaping…it causes so many respiratory issues [for] these kids. We need to do everything we can to get them away from this.”