High-Tech Spying in High Schools Busts Vapers

Students often aren't told of sensors, surveillance in school bathrooms
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 28, 2024 1:25 PM CST
High-Tech Spying in High Schools Busts Vapers
In this April 23, 2014, file photo, a man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago.   (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

When Aaliyah Iglesias was caught vaping at a Texas high school, suddenly, the rest of her high school experience was threatened: being student council president, her role as debate team captain, and walking at graduation. Even her college scholarships. She was sent to the district's alternative school for 30 days and told she could've faced criminal charges. Like thousands of other students around the nation, she was caught by surveillance equipment that schools have installed to crack down on electronic cigarettes, often without informing students, per the AP. Schools nationwide have invested millions of dollars in the monitoring technology, including federal COVID-19 emergency relief money meant to help schools through the pandemic and aid students' academic recovery.

The sensors, at more than $1,000 each, can help fight the virus by checking air quality. Some districts pair the sensors with surveillance cameras. When activated by a vaping sensor, those cameras can capture every student leaving the bathroom. Students found vaping can receive a misdemeanor citation and be fined up to $100. And students found with vapes containing THC can be arrested on felony charges. At least 90 students in Tyler have faced misdemeanor or felony charges. The Tyler district declined to comment on its disciplinary actions, saying that tracking vape usage addresses a problem that's hurting children's health. "The vape detectors have been efficient in detecting when students are vaping, allowing us to address the issue immediately," the school system said.

A leading provider, HALO Smart Sensor, sells 90% to 95% of its sensors to schools. The sensors don't have cameras or record audio but can detect increases in noise in a school bathroom and send a text alert to school officials, said Rick Cadiz of IPVideo, the maker of the HALO sensors. The sensors are marketed primarily for detecting vape smoke or THC but also can monitor for sounds such as gunshots or keywords indicating possible bullying. The company is aware of privacy concerns, per Cadiz. "All it's doing is alerting that something's going on," he said. "You need someone to physically investigate the alert."

story continues below

On social media, students around the US describe ways to outsmart the sensors. Some report covering them in plastic wrap; others say they blow the smoke into their clothes. The consequences for Iglesias included having to step down as student council president and debate captain and leaving the National Honor Society. Iglesias was still able to attend prom, walk at graduation, and stay in most of her clubs. She also kept her college scholarship and now attends Tyler Junior College. For her, the vaping punishments went too far, though she notes, "I'm never going to do something like that again, because the repercussions I faced were horrible." More here.

(More vaping stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.