Spokane schools may install vaping sensors in bathrooms and hallways

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Spokane Public Schools is poised to combat the vaping epidemic unfolding in its middle and high schools using some sneaky equipment: sensors in the bathrooms and cameras in the hallways.

The school board is expected to pass a proposal to spend about $120,000 on vaping sensors to be installed in mid-September.

Vaping among students had soared inside Spokane schools and elsewhere before the COVID-19 pandemic sent students home. The problem returned last year when schools reopened.

“The vaping problem certainly has been a challenge,” said Shawn Jordan, chief operations officer for the district. “But our community is well aware of what is occurring, causing students to feel like they can’t use the bathroom for its proper use.”

Jordan said the district received positive feedback from a pilot program last year at Ferris and North Central high schools.

The sensors will be installed by Ednetics of Post Falls, which won the contract with a bid of $119,335. The funds will come out of the district’s general fund.

To many students, Puff Bars, SMOKs, Juuls and Rick and Mortys have overtaken high school bathrooms.

Anna Osbourne, an incoming freshman at Ferris high school, said middle school was filled with students vaping, even during recess. As for the bathrooms, Osbourne said at least once a week she would go into the bathroom and catch a heavy whiff of scented smoke.

Osbourne said that during passing periods, there could be anywhere between 20 to 25 girls in the women’s restroom vaping.

Osbourne also described the kind of punishment vapers faced.

“I think that for the kids who did get caught, I think they probably got suspended. And then one of my friends did do it, and after three times he got suspended. Then every day they would search his backpack,” Osbourne said.

Gonzaga Prep student Sadie Henry is going into her sophomore year. Henry said the G-Prep bathrooms are relatively clean and school officials began enforcing anti-vaping protocols last year.

“They cracked down a lot last year, and they put up smoke detectors or vape detectors or whatever,” she said.

In Spokane schools, the sensors will be installed in all secondary schools except for the current Sacajawea Middle School building; that installation will be deferred until the new building is completed next summer.

The sensors alert school administrators via email and text when vaping is detected in a specific area so staff can respond.

In addition, these sensors have the capability to integrate with the district’s new Ava Aware camera system, which was part of the 2018 capital bond.

That means school staff will be able to fix the timing of the email and text with video of a student leaving the bathroom.

Jordan said offenders will receive “appropriate consequences” based on the number of previous violations.

“We are also trying to help students,” Jordan said. “It’s also an addiction, so we are trying to support students who are dealing with that.”

Jordan said the installation will take six to eight weeks. High schools will be serviced first.

Vaping use by Spokane students was at or above the statewide average, according to a Healthy Youth Survey poll conducted in 2019.

It found 21% of 10th-graders had tried vaping in the previous 30 days; in Spokane, that number was 25%.

The local statistics were even more shocking at the middle school level. Statewide, 10% admitted using the easily concealed vaping devices. In Spokane, 20% of eighth-graders had tried vaping, while 13% had used another form of tobacco – chiefly cigarettes, cigars and hookahs.