Galveston ISD Considers Vape Detection System As Other Districts See Success

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GALVESTON – Public school trustees are considering following other districts in the county by installing vape detectors in effort to keep the devices, which can be used to consume both nicotine and THC, out of schools.

District officials discussed the costs of buying and installing a vape detector system during a recent finance meeting, Tony Brown, president of the Galveston ISD board, said.

The board was awaiting a staff report about those costs and hopes to hear an update as soon as its Feb. 22 meeting, Brown said.

In Texas, a person must be at least 21 years old to legally buy or own tobacco products, including e-cigarettes or vape devices, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

Other school districts in the county have adopted the practice in the past year to cut down on students vaping both nicotine and THC inside of school bathrooms.

The Dickinson Independent School District also is considering the option but hasn’t installed any, Tammy Dowdy, spokeswoman for the district, said.

Some school districts in the county already have seen a decrease in students bringing vapes to school since installing the detection devices.

Hitchcock Independent School District installed several vape detectors last spring, and already has seen successes in cutting down on students smoking, district police Chief Chris Filidei said.

The devices in Hitchcock are not only vapor detectors, but also are listening devices, he said.

“They are not only for catching kids vaping, but also for keywords and sounds,” Filidei said.

The devices are used to monitor for gunshots, to detect noxious chemicals and to identify words such as “help” or “fire,” he said.

The HALO Smart Sensor is the only sensor that is able to detect THC oil emitted from vape pens, along with the other traditional smoking methods, according to the company. THC is the chemical component found in marijuana.

Halo detectors provide vape detection, air quality monitoring and a complete security device for privacy in areas where it’s inappropriate to use a camera or microphone, according to the company.

“For the vapes, it is the water vapor in the air that the detectors pick up on,” Filidei said. “They pick up on cigarettes and liquid THC vapes.”

“Most people including parents don’t know the difference between regular vapes and THC vapes,” he said. “It can be very difficult to tell the two apart.”

Hitchcock ISD has installed detectors at Hitchcock High School and Crosby Middle School, Filidei said.

Filidei wouldn’t disclose how many detectors are installed on each campus and where they are located on the campuses, but said students already had been able to locate the detectors.

Even though the detectors look similar to smoke detectors, students have been able to identify where they are on the campuses and what they look like as well.

“Students caught on very quickly when the vape detectors were installed,” he said.

The detectors have detections to show when they’re being tampered with by students, he said.

Each of the Halo detectors costs about $1,000, Filidei said.

Hitchcock ISD police had arrested about 25 students since the first detectors were installed last spring, which is more than average, he said.

“These detectors have always been 100 percent accurate,” Filidei said.

Texas City Independent School District installed similar vape detectors on two of its campuses last year and has found similar success rates with them, Melissa Tortorici, director of communications at the school district, said.

“The sound detection is good because it lets you know if there is a lot of activity going on where they are detected,” Tortorici said.

Sixty four people have died and 2,758 have been hospitalized because of vaping-related lung injuries in the United States, a 2020 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated.