Whitman selected for county pilot program to test vape detectors


Vassili Prokopenko

Rather than relying on a simple detector, a focus on education and self-improvement will benefit students’ mental and physical health in a much more profound way.

By Griffin Haber

On April 21, MCPS officials selected Whitman to participate in a Vape Detection System Pilot Program, according to an email from Principal Robert Dodd. The program is one of several new safety initiatives that the county is in the process of implementing.

The program will test three different vape detection systems to determine their effectiveness in reducing substance use, according to Dodd. Whitman, along with five other MCPS high schools, are currently installing the devices. 

 “The purpose of the pilot program is to detect and discourage the use of vaping devices, especially in the use of illicit substances in school restrooms,” Dodd wrote.

Whitman administrators have made previous attempts to curb substance use. During Whitman’s Impact Week in March, 10th Grade Administrator Mitzy Seyoum displayed informative posters within the school to spread awareness about substance abuse and foster a safer school environment.

 “It is an ongoing process that we’re going to continuously refine and ensure that not just the students [are] feeling more comfortable and safe, but also our staff is able to handle the implementation of the program,” Seyoum said. “I have heard feedback from our security and other cluster security staff, who when they’ve discussed the vape detectors with other students and even at other schools, [have heard] that the students are actually happy that they’re coming in.”

The Vape Detection System Pilot Program also features “substance use intervention services and outreach,” according to Dodd. The information gathered from the pilot program will inform the county’s broader safety enhancement efforts.

In a countywide email sent on April 12, MCPS Chief Operating Officer M. Brian Hull wrote that the vape detection system allows the county “to take appropriate action” concerning student health and safety. These devices will work similarly to smoke detectors by sensing the presence of substances and alerting adults to the problem.

According to Dodd, MCPS will decide whether to expand the program based on “the need and feasibility to continue this school’s safety measures systemwide.”

With coinciding goals of student safety, the Vape Detection Pilot Program begins alongside a student ID badge initiative. In the safety school update, MCPS officials wrote that the initiative aims to provide a way for security personnel to quickly recognize individuals who don’t belong on school campus. 

Whitman’s Security Team Leader Clarence Dove believes the pilot program and the vaping detection systems may help curb illicit behavior. 

“Who’s gonna want to go in the bathroom and take that chance, when you have this mechanism hanging down from the ceiling that supposedly will pick up smoke, detect that and is now sending a call out to security?” Dove said. “Any assistance that we can get is awesome, so if these work then this will help [in] minimizing what goes on in the bathroom.”

Some students oppose the pilot program and insist that the county is not addressing the source of the problem. A sophomore, who used to vape, thinks the detection systems will be ineffective.

“I think using punishment as a deterrent isn’t the right way to get around,” the sophomore said. “I think education is more important than just punishment, because if you’re trying to catch people, you’re not responding to the problem.”