Centre Co. high school explores using new tech to deter students from vaping


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WTAJ)– According to statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a record number of teens are using e-cigarettes and vaping products, even amidst growing health concerns.

In November, WTAJ shared a special report out of State College Area High School where vaping, according to a school resource officer, had become “an epidemic”. The district, is now looking to curb vaping with the possibility of new technology that can detect e-cigs.

The in-depth story is below:

When WTAJ last spoke with State College Area High School’s Resource Officer John Aston, he had a large collection of vapes that were confiscated from students.

Now, two months later, that collection has only grown

“I had to get a second box,” Officer Aston said.

He told WTAJ:

“We are still fighting the campaign for vaping. It hasn’t gone down, we have weekly reports of vaping.”

Officer Aston says the school confiscates an average of five-to-seven vapes per week.

He feels this “sustained problem” is not from a lack of effort… as the dangers of e-cigs continue to be taught and shown throughout the school on posters.

School cameras are also used to try an catch those vaping. But the devices are easily concealed.

“We’re doing a lot of different enforcement, but we need more help,” Aston said.

That help could come in the form of a vape detector, a new technology more than half-a-dozen PA schools are already using.

The device looks like a smoke detector, but is specially built to detect vapor expelled from e-cigs. Some detectors sound an alarm, while others give a silent alert to school officers and administrators (that can be tracked on mobile devices).

If approved by the district, Officer Aston knows exactly where the detectors would go:

The bathroom’s, we’ve found, is where 90-percent or more of the vaping incidents occur. In between classes, during classes, a lot of students are using the bathrooms for the place to vape. If we placed detectors in there, we’re hoping that’s gonna be a real clear deterrent–no longer are the bathrooms a convenient place to vape,” he said.

Officer Aston feels just the presence of signs advertising the detectors (perhaps reading: ‘Vape Detectors used on premises”) will be a difference-maker as well.

More details:

During WTAJ’s visit to State College High Wednesday, Aston said he confiscated two vape pens the previous day, and received a report of another in the school before WTAJ arrived.

“Unfortunately, where we are right now in the new year, we are still seeing a high number of vaping incidents within the school,” he said.

Officer Aston says he’s reached out to half-a-dozen other schools who use the new tech. A majority say they’ve found success in deterring student use of e-cigs, but claim that placement of the detectors is key.

Officer Aston says that the ceiling usually works as the best location for a detector, as long as it’s not too high. Aston claims putting the device too low on a side wall could tempt students to damage them.

“You’re dealing with the risk of damaging the vape detectors which are very expensive,” he said.

Each individual detector costs about $1,000.

As SCASD looks into purchasing this new technology, Officer Aston says he’s recently had another form of assistance in finding students using vapes.

“We are getting a lot more student reports, meaning students are reporting ‘Hey I just left the bathroom, I can smell vape in there'”, Aston said.

He added that with the advent of the anonymous reporting program called “Safe-2-Say”, more digital reports of vapes in school have come in as well.

“About one-in-five Safe-2-Say reports are about vapes,” Officer Aston said.

While these reports have helped Aston to confiscate more e-cigs, he (along with school administrators) feel having a device that’s close to full-proof in detecting vapes is ideal.

“If they’re able to do what they say they can do, they would really help,” said State College Area High School Assistant Principal Brett Wilson.

There’s no timeline on when SCASD could put out bids and then officially vote on the detectors. At the district’s school board meeting on Monday, Jan 13, the board granted permission to move forward on this initiative.

According to SCASD: “The Board’s permission does not constitute approval of the project, but rather allows administration to develop specifications and allocate funds for a competitive bidding process.”

The vape detectors are listed as a summer district project. If approved, Aston and Wilson said they would look to install detectors in each of the building’s eight large public bathrooms.

Before completing an interview with Mr. Wilson, WTAJ asked him why vaping has persisted in the school, and why some students haven’t changed their behavior after being punished for vaping. Below is Wilson’s response:

“I think it’s hard to find a one-size-fits-all for students, especially a student-body of our size. I think educating students about the negative health effects of vaping is still key. When you have a conversation with a student who says they’re doing it for the first time, or because of a peer-group, it’s a different type of conversation– when compared to that student who’s been doing it for a couple years and is addicted. That [speaking with the latter student] is a different kind of conversation about addiction and what that means. It’s important to talk to that student to see if they’re okay that a substance is controlling their entire schedule.”

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