Holy Family Tackles Vaping Concerns

A local school division is working to ensure its schools have clean air, free of all contaminants including the now-popular vaping fumes.

Holy Family Catholic Regional School Division has adopted the use of vape detectors, after students voiced their concerns with their peers vaping in the bathrooms.

“Our board of trustees meet with students from across the school division multiple times each year,” says Supt. Betty Turpin.

“It was unanimous that students were seeing vaping going on in the washrooms and they were feeling uncomfortable going in to use the facilities,” she adds.

Turpin says administration knew they had to take action to find a solution and they started to brainstorm strategies to eliminate the use of vapes in their schools.

“Unless you catch the students vaping, they can’t be searched,” explains Turpin, adding it was also not cost effective to hire an individual to monitor bathrooms.

“We heard about devices out there that could report when there were foreign particulates in the air, and we decided to do a pilot project.”

Late last spring, the school division installed vape detectors to see if they would be an effective measure to help curb the use of vapes in the bathrooms. Turpin says the devices detect particulates and even loud noises near them, sending messages to administrators’ phones. Administrators can then go to the location to investigate what is happening at the location.

“We initially installed the vape detectors in Peace River, AB, as a three-month trial and we were pleased with the results,” says Turpin.

“We don’t want to see vapes on the property and the students know that it is an illegal activity for people under 18 years of age. If administrators are alerted by the device and they catch a student vaping, it results in a three-day suspension.”

Since May, there have been multiple cases of students vaping in the washrooms, all of whom have been caught because of the detectors. Turpin says the great thing is that now parents and school officials can help students who are caught using vapes, noting there are courses of action that can be taken to help them curb their addiction to the vapes.

The devices are installed in cages on the ceilings and Turpin says they’ve already gone a long way to improve air quality. She says the school division has been pleased with what the detectors can alert administration to, even beyond the students vaping in the washrooms. The detectors can pick up cigarette smoke, vaping fumes, marijuana smoke, fire smoke and even loud noises if there is an aggressive situation occurring in the area. Turpin says the noises can be anything from yelling to destruction of property in the washrooms, all of which will be alerted to administration.

“We learned this summer that our air handling system is better than we expected,” says Turpin. “We turned the system off in May and the devices were picking up the wildfire smoke in our air, so we were able to turn them back on to clear the air. Parents are always concerned about air quality, especially since the COVID pandemic, so this is one way to assure them.”

After the success of the pilot project, Turpin says the school division decided to install 35 devices across eight schools. Each vape detector costs $1,700 each, but she hopes they will be able to mitigate the $80,000 project cost with grant money.

“This shows we listen to our students and are trying to do something about their concerns,” says Turpin, who notes it is vital that all students feel comfortable in the schools.

“Now we are putting a strategy in place to be proactive about dealing with students who are caught vaping, to help them find a way to quit using them.”

She says parents were very supportive of the initiative, with the vast majority acknowledging they did not want their children to have the vapes.

Turpin says the school division has asked the vape detector company to differentiate the types of activity the monitors are picking up, so administration can act accordingly to formulate plans to address the concerns.