If a student vapes in the bathrooms at Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, school administrators will know within seconds.
They’ll also know if students are smoking tobacco, fighting or vandalizing property in the bathrooms, school officials said, thanks to newly installed sensors.
Recently, the school became one of the first in San Diego to install devices called HALO sensors in student bathrooms, sensors that can detect vaping but do not have any camera or recording device.
The sensors, which look like smoke detectors, can tell school administrators whether students are using tobacco or THC.
When a sensor detects vaping, Principal Listy Gillingham, vice principals and school security officers will get a text message and an email, Gillingham said. A school official will search the bathroom and call the parents of any students caught vaping.
Depending on what is found, the school also may discipline the students. Discipline for possessing controlled substances such as electronic cigarettes and vaping devices can range from in-school consequences to suspension, expulsion, and arrest, according to Patrick Henry High’s student handbook.
Gillingham said the sensors have become an effective deterrent to vaping and vandalizing.
In the days since the detectors were installed, vaping activity at the school has declined significantly, she said. Gillingham estimated that about 10 students were caught vaping each month before the school got the sensors.
“I don’t like having kids participating with any form of tobacco or any kind of products that might harm them,” Gilingham said.
Patrick Henry High is one of more than 1,000 schools nationwide that have installed HALO vaping detectors, which are sold by the security company IPVideo Corporation, said Rick Cadiz, vice president of sales and marketing of Bay Shore, N.Y. company. Cadiz said he doesn’t know if other San Diego County schools have them installed.
The detectors cost Patrick Henry High about $1,000 each, which the school paid for using discretionary bond money, Gillingham said. She said there are no recurring costs for the sensors.
The HALO detector has been around since 2018, but orders for more than 1,000 schools have poured in since September, Cadiz said.
“We’ve never had so much of a demand for our products like we’ve had with this HALO vape sensor,” Cadiz said.
Schools across the country are trying to keep students from vaping, which has been associated with 2,800 cases of lung injury and 68 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Vaping involves several chemicals that experts say are harmful and comes with particular risks for young people, including nicotine addiction and harm to brain development.
Several school districts, including San Diego Unified and Poway Unified, have sued electronic cigarette giant Juul, alleging it is fostering vaping among young people and disrupting students’ learning.
Student bathrooms have become hot spots for vaping because they are closed spaces, school officials say.
“One complaint I’ve heard over and over again from many students is they don’t like using our restrooms because there is someone vaping in there because it’s a safe and hidden space,” Gillingham said in an email to school parents last week.
Cadiz said some of IPVideo’s school customers have gone so far as locking bathrooms or stationing teachers inside bathrooms for hours at a time to keep students from vaping.
Parent-teacher organizations at some schools are raising money to buy HALO detectors so their children can use the bathroom more freely again, Cadiz said.
IPVideo created the HALO detector because it saw a gap in the security market for a monitoring device that could be installed in areas that must be private, such as bathrooms, medical patient rooms and hotel rooms.
People do not want to be recorded in those spaces, but thousands of incidents still happen in those spaces every day, Cadiz said.
“We knew there was a big hole and a need for security,” Cadiz said.
The HALO detectors do not record any sound or video.
The HALO detectors can sense more than just vaping. They can alert school officials to loud noises in the bathrooms, such as student fights or bullying. Gillingham said the sensors have helped stop students from vandalizing the soap dispensers.
Gillingham said in a school email that Patrick Henry’s sensors will also alert officials to tampering. She said students caught damaging the sensors will be arrested for vandalism and will have to pay for the them.
IPVideo plans to announce next month that its detectors also will be able to detect and identify gunshots, Cadiz said.
“We kind of stumbled upon it as this whole vape epidemic came out,” Cadiz said. “We’re hoping that we at least help get the vaping out of the schools and the schools are left with a good security product … to prevent hazing incidents and bullying and all sorts of stuff.”