Admin hopes to end student e-cigarette use in the form of vape detectors


Jake Goodwin

Officer Morlock stands with the collection of vapes, wax pens, pods, juices, carts, and even cigarettes that he's accumulated over his years at DHS. Although when any one of these items is found on a student it is considered evidence to the police, everything seen here he has simply found throughout the school.

Jake Goodwin

In the latest attempt to battle the vaping epidemic sweeping the nation’s high schools — and middle schools — the DHS administration is testing the reliability of vape detectors installed in student bathrooms.

The school has tried educating the student body in Health classes and assemblies, locking up student bathrooms to deny vapers their prime spot, sending offenders (the campus is tobacco-free and has been for years) to ISS, and confiscating the popular vape or wax pens. Not much has deterred the habit.

Principal Dan Donovan said he’s interested to see whether the detectors will have an affect on altering student behavior.“I think they are needed with the amount of vaping happening at DHS and around the country,” he said. “It’s not just a Danbury High School issue, it’s a high school youth issue, and it’s something that needs to be stopped.”

The detectors — installed in the ceiling of the bathrooms — detect vape, smoke, and noise, and are the same model that other high schools, such as Ridgefield and Greenwich, have recently installed. Each detector cost just under $1,000, with a one-time software setup fee of $300. Donovan said Beaver Brook approved the purchase and supplied the funds.

Assistant Principal Fallon Daniels said she has already begun receiving alerts on her phone from the detectors. She received two last week, and added the message is beginning to be made clear. Donovan said next year will be a better test, to see what happens over a six-month period.

Despite finding a number of kids already, administrators and safety advocates are still figuring out how the detectors work. The devices need to be calibrated to their environment, that being the bathroom.

Equipped with a noise component, if the noise in a bathroom gets too loud staff will be alerted. (It has not been uncommon to see 20 or so students ushered from the D4 boys’ bathroom before the 7:20 bell). “If someone flushes the toilet, I don’t want the vaping detector to send me or the safety advocates or the assistant principals to the bathroom,” Donovan said.

He emphasizes that putting a student in ISS is not his goal. “I want a student to sit down, read information on what is a vape and what’s involved in it. If they’re 18 they’re allowed to have them, but if they’re not 18 then they’re not and I want them to realize what they’re doing. I don’t think a lot of kids realize the chemicals that are involved in this stuff,” Donovan said. “I’m just trying to educate them.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in five students vape, and administration is worried for this generation of kids who vape without understanding the consequences. One Juul pod is equal to one pack of cigarettes, and “these kid are going through those pods like it’s nothing, and once you get addicted to nicotine, then you need it,” Donovan said.

Daniels shared a similar view. “We just want to protect the kids and get them to understand what they’re doing and also help them to stop. I think [the detectors] will serve as a reminder that what these kids are doing to their bodies is wrong, and that’s what we’re trying to do, remind them,” she said.

Many students assured anonymity declined comment as to whether they vaped themselves.

“If they start this at age 16 and continue, what’s going to happen when they’re 24? I mean that’s a really big concern of mine,” Donovan said. An absolute solution to this problem appears futile. Instead of vaping in the bathrooms, students will now take advantage of other unmonitored areas of the school.

He stressed, however, “if a kid pauses in the slightest to think about what they’re doing before they do it, then I’ve kind of accomplished my goal. If they look and go hmm, they’re putting these vape detectors in the building because this is really bad for me and they want me to stop, then it’s one way to get the message out, and that’s good.”