Metcalfe County Schools: Protecting Student Health and Wellbeing

Schools in Kentucky have a vaping problem.

According to a 2021 report prepared by Kentucky Incentives for Prevention, vaping rates among Kentucky students are higher than the national average, with 24% of seniors and 17% of sophomores reporting daily use.

So, when Metcalfe County Schools’ Safety Administrator and Safe Schools Coordinator, Chris Huffman, learned about the HALO Smart Sensor’s ability to detect vaping on school grounds, it immediately caught his attention.

“It looks like a smoke detector,” said Huffman. “It’s designed to detect factors affecting air quality, like carbon monoxide and particulate matter, and it’ll also detect vaping aerosols and send instant notifications to administrators with a specific location.”

With Gallagher’s Command Centre already securing the K–12 school district, Huffman saw the opportunity to tackle their high school’s vaping problem by integrating with the HALO Smart Sensor and installing them in every classroom and bathroom. The results were immediate—and surprising.

A Dramatic Reduction in Vaping

HALO Smart Sensors were installed at the start of the 2022–23 school year and revealed a much bigger vaping problem than Metcalfe County Schools realized.

"Right away, we had numerous notifications alerting administrators of students vaping in the restroom,” Huffman said. “Sometimes, you don't know you have a problem until you start looking for it, and we found that, actually, there's a lot more vaping going on than we originally thought.”

Once the school realized the scope of the problem, the HALO Smart Sensor helped them address it.

“If a student is vaping in the restroom farthest away from the office, they may be gone before administration can get there,” Huffman explained. “So, we integrated a camera system with the sensors, and now, when a vape alarm goes off, it triggers the camera to automatically record for 10 minutes so we know who’s leaving the bathroom and can have a conversation with them to work through it.”

This visibility has helped Metcalfe’s teachers and administrators significantly reduce the instances of vaping throughout their schools, an achievement Huffman credited to the HALO Smart Sensor and their ability to track alarms in Command Centre. “We haven’t even finished the school year yet, but it’s already helped us tremendously,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of students are happy to have vape-free bathrooms, and parents and teachers are happy, too.”

Unexpected Health Benefits

But vaping detection hasn’t been the only HALO tool for promoting student health that Metcalfe County Schools has benefitted from.

“A while back, we got a notification about the air quality in some of our rooms,” said Huffman. With the ability to detect changes in temperature, humidity, and volatile organic compounds in addition to vaping aerosols, the HALO integration was able to notify administrators of a pending HVAC malfunction before it became a bigger problem.

“We brought in an HVAC team and found we were having air quality issues due to an improperly functioning air unit,” he elaborated. “Obviously, poor air quality can exacerbate health problems and we don’t want any of our students getting sick on our watch, so having early detection was a massive benefit.”

And with asthma and allergies topping the Kentucky Department of Education’s 2021–22 list of top chronic health conditions among students, the HALO integration has helped Metcalfe County Schools maintain health standards and improve air quality to create healthier classrooms.

Creating Physical and Mental Safe Spaces

“Safety is a constant battle for schools,” Huffman said plainly. And while having precautions in place is critical, it’s also increasingly important to make sure students feel safe when attending school.

Beyond vaping reduction, the HALO Smart Sensor also picks up abnormal noises like gunshots, which can trigger lockdown procedures preconfigured in Command Centre. “The kids know we have these protections in place,” explained Huffman. “And that’s the goal—to do everything you possibly can to create a safer school and make parents feel like their children are taken care of.”

Future Potential to Educate Students

Huffman sees Metcalfe County Schools’ first year integrating with the HALO Smart Sensor as a success, but also recognizes that there’s a lot of potential yet to be tapped.

That's because HALO doesn’t just detect the presence of harmful particles in the air; it also produces a report on the specific chemical compounds present, giving teachers a powerful weapon in fighting misperceptions about the safety of vaping. And with 13% of Kentucky students reporting their first vaping experience in 8th grade, there’s an opportunity to educate younger middle school students on the dangers before temptation comes their way.

“It's a powerful sensor,” Huffman concluded. “We see the possibilities for using it as an educational aid in addition to a harm reduction tool and we’re already thinking about how to maximize HALO’s functions to bring the most benefits to our students for the next school year.”

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2023 issue of Campus Security Today.

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