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Verkada's SV11 Environmental Sensor can be used in conjunction with a camera to gain visual evidence of anyone vaping or smoking. Photo courtesy of Verkada
Verkada's SV11 Environmental Sensor can be used in conjunction with a camera to gain visual evidence of anyone vaping or smoking. Photo courtesy of Verkada
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San Dieguito school board approves vape sensor pilot program

ENCINITAS — A pilot program will soon bring new sensors and cameras onto campuses in the San Dieguito Union High School District to help stop vaping on campus.

The school board recently voted in a 3-2 decision to launch the pilot program from the company Verkada on a 30-day trial which will bring 10 vapor sensors into bathrooms on two campuses in the district as well as cameras installed outside of the bathroom doors.

Verkada already has contracts with both the Coronado and Poway school districts for use of their vape sensors on their campuses.

“This is what all of our principals have asked us to do for two years and we haven’t honored that,” School Board President Mo Muir said. “If we let one kid get through this district with an addiction then we failed our kids.”

According to the company website, Verkada’s SV11 Environmental Sensor “factors multiple data points from a range of onboard sensors into a 1 to 100 Vape Index that can accurately detect the presence of cigarette smoke, THC, and vape emissions.”

Student members of the school board all agree that vaping is an issue on campus and are in support of taking steps to remove it from the school. However, they also express some concerns over privacy regarding the placement of cameras.

Payton Parker, a senior at Torrey Pines High School, said she conducted an informal survey of students at her school and heard a common refrain.

“A lot of them said it would be an invasion of privacy of sorts even though the cameras will be outside of the bathroom doors,” Parker said. “And they said the majority of kids wouldn’t need that kind of supervision and they feel it’s unfair to those kids.”

The sensors provided by Verkada will be installed inside bathrooms, a common location for students to vape while at school, and when detected will send a notification to a faculty member with access to a mobile app that vapors were detected.

The faculty would then be able to review footage recorded by cameras connected with the sensors to see which students entered the bathroom at the time the sensors were tripped.

However, student board members also raised concerns that if multiple students enter the bathroom while the sensor is tripped but one or more were not vaping, they could be wrongfully punished.

“That was definitely a concern that I heard from students and also had myself,” said Amanda Chen, a student board member from Canyon Crest Academy.

Board members Julie Bronstein and Katrina Young voted against the pilot program expressing a desire to first launch the pilot without the use of cameras.

Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward said it would not make sense for the district to use the sensors without the use of cameras.

“Admin teams cannot run to the restroom every time the sensors go off. And they cannot send emails to everyone to figure out who was in the bathroom,” James-Ward said. “We have campuses with 2600 kids. And for four people running around looking to see when the vapor sensor went off and who was in the restroom, that’s not work that they can feasibly do.”

The school district will identify a high school and middle school to launch the program before bringing the program back to the board for full approval with any necessary changes or alterations.