(Image courtesy of Pixabay)
Oak Park High School

New anti-vaping equipment installed at Oak Park High School

Anti-vaping sensors were installed in student restrooms at Oak Park High School to discourage students from vaping.

According to Principal Kevin Buchanan, four sensors were installed in the restrooms, each costing approximately $1,000.

Buchanan said the vape sensors will have two functions: to prevent bullying and vaping.

“[The sensors] are also triggered to alarm when the volume in the area increases. The idea behind that is that these are not just vape sensors, they are also anti-bullying sensors,” Buchanan said. “If there was a fight in the bathrooms, it would send an alert, because usually when there’s a fight all the kids start yelling.”

In previous years there was no alternative to suspension for students who were caught vaping. Buchanan said an Alternative to Suspension Contract (Nicotine) has provided a compromise.

“Before, we didn’t have an alternative for kids. If they were caught vaping, they would get suspended. However, if they get caught smoking weed, they get an opportunity to allow themselves to be tested at intervals, and if they remain clean for a year, then they [get] off the contract and the discipline gets wiped from their record,” Buchanan said. “We took that contract, and we apply it now to nicotine, and we purchased nicotine tests. Now we can do urine analysis tests for nicotine use, and students who get caught vaping get an opportunity to avoid suspension by accepting nicotine testing.”

In addition to urine tests, being caught vaping can lead to loss of extracurricular privileges.

“The Co-Curricular Code of ethics hasn’t changed. You lose your extracurricular privileges for at least a season, or for year-long activities, the rest of the year,” Buchanan said. “That also includes drama, clubs, [Academic Decathlon] — any extracurricular activities are privileges that can be lost, if you violate the code of ethics in any way.”

However, sophomore Galia Broussi said it is also possible students may try to find a way around the vape sensors.

“Vaping is bad for you physically, and it negatively impacts your mental health,” Broussi said. “If vape sensors were to be installed, it would be enforcing the rule ‘vaping is not allowed,’ which means it’s just another rule to break — after all, it’s pretty much what teens do.”

Oak Park High School administration has a long-term plan to ensure that students stop vaping, rather than simply finding new places to do it.

“If we don’t catch anybody with the sensors, I can assume that they’re not vaping, or have they just found a new place to do it,” Buchanan said. “If that’s the case, and they’ve stopped vaping in these bathrooms and have moved to different bathrooms, then we’ll put the sensors in there.”

The sensors are part of a schoolwide campaign to reduce vaping on campus.

“We are trying to attack vaping in three different ways: deter, detect, educate,” Buchanan said. “These vape sensors are part of the ‘detect’ phase, but when more people find out about them, it will also start to ‘deter.’ I think combined with many of the other things we’re doing, it will contribute to reducing vaping on campus.”

Additionally, administration will be educating students on the consequences of vaping through a new addition to the controlled substance safety policy.

“I have just revised the disciplinary policies for tobacco and nicotine use, and I’m adding this to the hand book. We’ve created an alternative to the suspension contract because [we] don’t want to have to suspend kids, but right now we don’t have a contract,” Buchanan said. “We have just managed to order 50 nicotine tests, which will be coming soon, so we will have an opportunity to, if a kid is caught vaping, let them choose to submit to random testing and counseling or suspension, like we do now with marijuana and other controlled substances. We didn’t have that in place for nicotine, but now we’ve put that same thing in place.”

The sensors are designed to immediately notify specific staff when vaping is detected.

“If they vape in the bathrooms, [the sensors] don’t have alarms –– they don’t buzz or go off –– it’s all networked. We hook them into our [ethernet connection] and we enter the cell phones of all the people we want to be alerted,” Buchanan said. “It’ll be connected to several staff members’ and administrators’ phones, so if somebody is caught vaping in the bathroom, we will receive text alerts. The kids won’t even know it’s gone off.”

According to junior Rhea Bhutada, the high school’s anti-vaping initiatives have raised awareness among students.

“I believe Oak Park has done a lot to teach students about why vaping is bad, like signs, posters, videos, things like that,” Bhutada said. “Adding vape sensors around the school will be a huge step in the right direction.”