HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. – As students return to class for a new school year, local districts are working to “clear the air” about the impacts of e-cigarettes, or what’s commonly known as “vaping”.

In Carmel Clay Schools, administrators say it’s an issue that’s only getting harder to track in school buildings.

“The devices themselves are small, the amount of vapor that’s blown out is very small. It’s very hard to detect,” said David Woodward, director of student services.

Carmel Clay Schools aren’t alone, local organizations, like the Hamilton County Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs, say it’s everywhere.

“It’s a problem. It’s an epidemic,” said Executive Director Monica Greer.

The council, which consists of a nine-member board and more than 100 members in the organization, is partnering with Hamilton County schools to combat vaping among teens.

As part of a grant, the council awarded $27,000 to five area school districts to install 25 vape detectors inside their buildings. Districts include Westfield, Noblesville, Sheridan, Options Charter and Carmel Clay Schools.

Like smoke detectors, Greer says vape detectors work in a similar fashion. Placed in school bathrooms, or other “hot spots” on campus, the devices are sensitive and can pick up on more than just vape activity.

“Juices from the vape, just normal vaping, that can be detected. THC can be detected,” Greer said. “The kids are smart. You know, they try and cover up sometimes what they’re doing. So, they can also tell if there’s other types of chemicals being used to try and cover it up.”

Once activity is detected, administrators are immediately notified.

“When they go off, a lot of the staff members get a text or a notification, and they know exactly where that (detector) went off,” said Greer. “They can immediately go and see who’s exiting the bathroom and figure it out.”

Vape detectors in Carmel Clay Schools are a first for the district. Though put in middle and high school bathrooms to start, Woodward says there’s possibility to change locations over time as the devices are also portable.

“As the vaping moves, we’re going to move them. There may be times where we just move them at random,” he said. “Our intent is to keep the devices floating throughout each of our secondary schools, middle school included, and our high school.”

If a student is caught vaping, Woodward says several protocols are in place depending on the circumstances.

“If we have someone and it’s vaping, and it’s tobacco… They can face a detention and a ticket from the Carmel Police Department,” he said. “If there’s an illegal substance in the vape device, then they’re actually going to be charged through Carmel Police Department, and that leads to an expulsion.”

Along with addressing the act of vaping, administrators are also trying to dig deeper into why students are doing it.

“We know that vaping is highly addictive,” said Brooke Lawson, director of mental health for Carmel Clay Schools. “Sometimes students are using vape pens as a coping strategy for other mental health issues.”

Because teens are often unaware of the health risks and addictive properties associated with vaping, Lawson says they’re looking to incorporate education alongside the required discipline. For this, Lawson says the district is also tapping into its partnerships with local treatment facilities and evidence-based interventions to help struggling students.

“Having vape detectors in schools will help us identify those students who need that support, but then we also want to make sure that we have resources in place to get them the treatment and the support that they need,” she said.

“The message is we care,” added Woodward. “We’re a reflection of what happens in the community, and we want our students to be safe. We want our schools to be safe, and we want our students to be healthy.”

“By combining these vape detectors with our prevention programs, our drug abuse programs, we can create a layered approach with the intent of reducing, hopefully eliminating, vaping in our schools,” he said.

Greer says vape detectors in schools are just a piece of the puzzle. Though the council can’t afford to fully fund devices in every Hamilton County school, she says they’re always willing to at least help districts get started.

“If a school district has not been funded, and they want to, they can reach out to me and get a grant application,” Greer said.

Greer says interested districts must be in Hamilton County and can receive up to $6,000, which would help install roughly 5 detectors. If you’re interested, you can email Monica Greer.