Could vape detectors smoke out students using e-cigarettes?

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Students at Madison High School are pushing the county’s board of education to install new technology to curb a growing health threat within the school and across the district. A collection of student government representatives urged the board at their Dec. 16 meeting to purchase vaping detectors for the school’s bathrooms.

The student panel offered a glimpse of how e-cigarettes are impacting every day on campus, even for those who stay away from the tobacco substitute. They said in-class bathroom breaks are now limited and stops between classes can lead to lateness with so many students using bathrooms to get their fix.Vape detectors can cost upwards of $1,000 per unit.

Madison High School Principal David Robinson said roughly 25 students – or roughly one-quarter of all disciplinary referrals this year – have faced punishment for vaping this year. “And those are just the one’s we’ve caught,” he said to board of education.

“You could get probably three times that,” Ryan Foley, a student government leader, added.

While teachers have been placed in bathrooms to curb vaping, the students’ argued that’s not enough. They closed their presentation with a pitch telling administrators that “vape detectors are necessary for instructional time, and class change.”

Robinson said he worked with the school resource officer to research possibilities and found a system that, for $1,000 per detector, can report signs of vaping in several different ways. “The alarm can go off, send an email to administrators and time-stamp security cameras,” Robinson said.

Madison High School students caught vaping can face a three-day in-school suspension or a five-day out-of-school suspension, depending on the kind e-cigarette device they’re using according to Robinson. Madison Early College High School and Madison Middle School, where vaping is also a concern, have their own policies regarding the use of e-cigarettes. While district-wide policy prohibits the use of tobacco and vaping products on any local school campus at any time, how to deal with offenses is up to each school principal.

Will Hoffman, superintendent of Madison County Schools, said e-cigarette use spiked after Christmas last year, when there was less awareness of the potential health impacts from vaping. Hoffman said that while budget limitations could make outfitting all bathrooms with vape detectors a challenge, he proposed working with the manufacturer to bring the new technology to Madison County as part of a pilot program encouraging other districts to follow suit.

Though the board took no official action on the vape detectors, the issue is likely to come up again. Board members exchanged ideas on finding grants to help purchase the devices, with chair Karen Blevins urging Robinson and the students to “come back with more information” on the detectors.


The board did vote unanimously to approve a new program that will support future student visits to the nurse’s office with online consultations with nurse practitioners. Presenters from the Center for Rural Health Innovation shared details of a grant-funded telehealth initiative that aims to reduce absences by addressing a student’s health care needs without a visit to the doctor’s office.

Grant funding will help bring telemedicine services to nurse's offices in all Madison County schools.

The program paves the way for school nurses to arrange a consultation with a health care provider online, while the student is still on campus. Using a tablet and tools capable of checking vitals and examining a student’s throat or ears, a nurse practitioner can diagnose a student’s complaint remotely, before charting the best course of action, like ordering a prescription or more tests.

Grants from the Duke Endowment and the NC Office or Rural Health make the program, which is available currently in more than 70 schools across the state, free for eligible districts. Students would have to enroll in the program, which would bill insurance companies for consultations. A sliding scale program for those uninsured would see out-of-pocket costs reduced or eliminated for families at or below 400% of the federal poverty level.

“We’re there for every kid you have in that building,” said Amanda Martin, executive director of the Center for Rural Health Innovation.

The Health-e-Schools program will rollout in all Madison County Schools in 2020.