Olentangy Local Schools leaders are stepping up their efforts to stop the use of e-cigarettes in district high schools.

The school board Sept. 12 approved spending $63,624 to install vaping detectors in every restroom in the four high schools.

This decision comes on the heels of a new district policy for the 2019-20 school year on students caught vaping in school. Students could face three days of out-of-school suspension and may opt to have that reduced to one day by agreeing to meet with a certified counselor.

“We’ve heard, anecdotally, over the last two years or so, increased reports (of vaping) from administrators, students and parents,” said Randy Wright, the district’s chief of administrative services. “It’s becoming rampant in bathrooms. We hear from students that often stalls are not available because they are occupied with students using a vaping device.”

Wright said installation of the detectors could be completed as soon as the end of November.

“We are still having students doing harmful things to their bodies in our school buildings,” Wright said. “Existing rules and education haven’t been enough.”

District spokeswoman Krista Davis said the vaping detectors would be limited to the high schools for now.

“I am sure middle schoolers are vaping to some extent,” Davis said, “but we’re hoping to address it at the high schools and continue to monitor it elsewhere.”

The year-old detection technology, called Halo, is taking off, with about 700 school districts nationally using it, said Rick Cadiz, vice president of sales for Long Island, New York-based IPVideo Corp., which manufactures the device.

Similar to a smoke detector, the device has 12 sensors that can detect up to 150 substances, including tobacco, THC and vaping compounds.

Nationally, the issue of vaping has taken on new urgency, with several reported deaths and hospitalizations due to lung conditions after use of the devices, also known as e-cigarettes.

The detection devices typically are connected to a school’s video network and time stamp an incident so administrators can connect it with video of those leaving or entering a restroom.

It also has a microphone that can pick up unusually loud noises that might indicate a fight in progress or other disturbance, Cadiz said.

“If Johnny and Billy light up and then walk out of the bathroom, principals can be pretty certain that they’re doing something that they’re not supposed to,” said Matt Sobel, a sales executive for the company.

The company said there has been little concern about privacy issues because no cameras are installed inside the restroom.

“If you can put a smoke detector in the bathroom, you can put this in there, too,” Sobel said.

Maggie Powers is one of four former Olentangy High School students – all four graduated earlier this year – who formed a group called Clearing the Fog to bring awareness to the use of e-cigarettes on the school’s campus.

Powers said she’s encouraged by the news that vaping detectors will be installed.

“Our group has heard about Olentangy installing the vape detectors in each bathroom,” she said. “We are very excited to see that our project has truly had an impact.”

The Columbus Dispatch reporter Dean Narciso contributed to this story.

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