LEWISTON — School officials are considering installing vape detectors in Lewiston High School bathrooms after students raised concerns about the difficulty of finding open facilities earlier this year.

In a memo to the School Committee, Superintendent Jake Langlais wrote that students vaping in bathroom stalls is believed to be partly responsible for long wait times and a lack of available bathrooms.

A Lewiston High School student walks into a single stall bathroom in the school’s new wing in February. Students say bathroom accessibility in the high school is an ongoing problem. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

Thus far, the district has received quotes of over $100,000 to install detectors in the bathroom, a cost which is not included in the budget. Langlais said the district has included the cost for installing vape detectors in some pending grant requests.

“We will continue to monitor bathrooms as we can with human resources, but we can’t station someone at every bathroom every period,” said Principal Jonathan Radtke.

Vape detectors would connect to the current high school security system, Radtke said. If vaping is detected, an audible alarm would sound and nearby video cameras would timestamp their recordings, enabling administrators to identify students who were using the bathroom during that time.

He said that vape detectors are “incredibly effective,” however the steep cost is a barrier.


School officials received positive feedback from other districts in the area with vape detectors in use, Langlais said.

These districts said “students may be creative on how they navigate to bypass the detectors or start using different spaces…but that the detectors were effective,” Langlais wrote in his memo. “Early on after their installation it created additional work but the word was spread by students that if you vape — you will get caught.”

Some students have said that finding an open, clean and functional bathroom in the high school is also difficult in part because administrators keep several bathrooms locked. Administrators have said that these facilities are located in areas of the building which lack supervision.

This school year, the high school will open previously locked bathrooms in the “C” wing in between periods, Radtke said. These bathrooms will remain locked during class times unless a teacher unlocks it for their class to use.

Other ideas administrators are considering include installing timers which indicate when a single-person bathroom has been in use longer than a set period of time and implementing a chip-enhanced student identification system.

“If you use the restroom, you have to either scan or the system detects movements throughout the school,” Langlais explained in his memo. “This would allow administration to look at a student’s movement over periods of time if there are concerns about excessive time out of class.”


Langlais also suggested that the School Committee revisit the district cell phone policy at the high school.

Currently, under the policy passed one year ago, high school students are prohibited from using their cell phones in school, except between classes.

Langlais said the district has received positive feedback from students at the middle school where cell phones are to be stored at all times. Administrators have also seen a reduction in fights at the middle school Langlais said, which he believes is partly due to the cell phone ban.

Initial opinions from the School Committee were mixed, with some expressing support for the idea and others pushing back, noting that high school students are old enough to manage their own cell phone use.

In other news, the School Committee received a presentation from the high school Mock Trial team, which competed at the national championships in Little Rock, Ark. in May.

Adviser Michelle Crowley said the team improved on their previous performance several years ago and were able to win one round.

Thirteen students plus advisors traveled to the championship. Six students spoke to the School Committee, sharing that their public speaking and networking skills have greatly improved through the high school program. Many said they have more confidence in themselves and their future career paths, too.

Last fall, the team won the Maine championships. Lewiston High School was also the state champions in 2019.

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