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Schools Using Surveillance To Catch Students Vaping

When Aaliyah Iglesias was caught vaping at a Texas high school, she didn't realize how much could be taken from her. The rest of her high school experience was threatened: being student council president, her role as debate team captain and walking at graduation. Even her college scholarships were at risk. She was sent to the district's alternative school for 30 days and told she could have faced criminal charges, Scripps News reports. Like thousands of other students around the country, she was caught by surveillance equipment that schools have installed to crack down on electronic cigarettes, often without informing students. Schools nationwide have invested millions of dollars in the monitoring technology, including federal COVID-19 emergency relief money meant to help schools through the pandemic and aid students' academic recovery. Marketing materials have noted the sensors, at a cost of over $1,000 each, could help fight the virus by checking air quality. E-cigarettes have inundated middle and high schools. The devices can dispense vapor containing higher concentrations of nicotine than tobacco cigarettes. Millions of minors report vaping despite efforts to limit sales to kids by raising the legal age to 21 and ban flavored products preferred by teenagers.

Some districts pair the sensors with surveillance cameras. When activated by a vaping sensor, those cameras can capture every student leaving bathrooms. It can surprise students that schools even have such technology. Iglesias, who graduated in May from Tyler High School in Tyler, Tex., first learned it had sensors after an administrator came into a restroom as students started vaping. "I was in awe," Iglesias said. The administrator tried to figure out who was involved but ultimately let all the students go. The episode that got her in trouble happened elsewhere in Texas, at Athens High School, where her debate team was competing last February. Iglesias went into a bathroom to vape. Later that day, her coach told her she had been caught. "I decided to partake in something that I'm not proud of, but I did it," Iglesias said, adding that her senior year was a stressful time and a close relative of hers was about to come out of jail. "I had had a lot of personal stuff building up outside." She immediately was pulled from the debate tournament and her coach told her she could face charges because she was 18. She was sent to her district's alternative school for 30 days, which was the minimum punishment for students caught vaping under Tyler schools' zero-tolerance policy.


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