In response to rising concerns about the number of fire alarms set off by on-campus vaping in the past year, Paly administration has recently installed vape detectors in the Media Arts Center (MAC) bathrooms to detect and deter vaping.
However, it is unclear whether the new $995 detectors and $495 software can correctly identify vape smoke, and skepticism from admin on the accuracy of the detectors is slowly increasing.
“After researching several manufacturers, the Director of Maintenance, Operations and Transportation, Ron Ellis, decided to go with the Fly Sense detectors,” Doa Morsy, the PAUSD Maintenance and Operations Secretary said. “These detectors can detect real-time vaping. What makes them unique is that they also have the capability to detect elevated sounds as a means to prevent vaping.”
According to Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson, the detectors will send a text and email to administrators when set off by vapor. Then, admin will send someone to check on the bathroom it was set off in.
Berkson, who has worked closely with the District to install the vape detectors, said that there has been no official evidence that the vape detectors work, and no one has been caught with the sensors yet.
“I don’t know how well they’re going to work,” Berkson said.
“I have doubts at this point because the (students) we have thought that we caught, didn’t have anything on them. Whether they stashed it or something else, I don’t know, so far it has not been effective … I’m not convinced they work.”
Junior Davis You was one of the students accused of vaping after a vape detector was set off while he was in the gender-neutral bathroom.
“I was just using the bathroom, and then I hear knocking on the door,” You said. “So I come out and it’s three people from administration, and they say that the vape detector went off. Then one of them goes inside and says that ‘it looks hazy,’ even though it didn’t.”
You was then brought to the office and told to empty his pockets. However, no evidence suggesting that You had been vaping was found on him.
“It just seems like, if (the District) is going to be spending money on this kind of thing, then they have to make sure it works,” You said.
While there is no indication that the new vape detectors work, Berkson said Paly is just a test school for the vape detectors to see how they work on a smaller scale before expanding.
“We had so many darn fire alarms going off, (the District) needed to try something,” Berkson said. “So we ordered these somewhere around November, and it took more than a month to come in because they were backordered, because the whole world wants to buy these things right now.”
According to PAUSD Superintendent Don Austin, Paly is not the only school in the school district with new vape detectors installed. Gunn High School Principal Kathleen Laurence reports that Gunn has the detectors on order, but that they have not been installed.
However, some students believe that vape detectors are not the solution to decreasing and preventing vaping.
“I do believe that vape detectors will help, but I don’t think they will be all that effective,” junior Lilli Corny said. “I think admin should advocate more about not vaping. I just don’t think that they should close the bathrooms or anything.”
Dr. Austin agrees with the idea that informing students on the dangers of vaping should be a main focus for combatting the vaping crisis at Paly.
Not only does vaping crowd bathrooms and create unnecessary lines, it also damages the health of other students.
“I have asthma and when I go into the bathroom and people are vaping, I actually do get some asthma attacks if it’s really really bad,” Corny said.
Despite admin’s strive to improve vape detection in bathrooms, inconclusive results and false accusations fail to resolve the prevalent issue of vaping at Paly.