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More security cameras, vape detectors may come to Ontario schools with $30M funding

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More security cameras and vape detectors could soon be installed in Ontario schools, with the announcement of $30 million in funding for school safety in the provincial budget this week.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says he is “deeply concerned” about students vaping in school and hopes that installing vape detectors – which are similar to smoke detectors but detect vapour – in spaces such as washrooms can help keep them healthy and safe.

“We’re putting the investments in place to keep them safe, keep them safe from cannabis, from illicit drugs and from unacceptably high rates of vaping taking place in schools,” he said in an interview.

“We cannot normalize this within our society. It should be a disturbing image to any one of us. I know parents are concerned about it. I hear from educators, too. That’s why the government is acting today with the commitment to go even further in the days ahead.”

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Some of the most recent data available suggests that in 2021-22 about one in five students in Grades 10 to 12 had vaped, which was down from a few years earlier, but there was a small increase among younger students.

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In 2021-22, some of the most recent data available, about 21 per cent of Ontario students in Grades 10 to 12 reported vaping, though that is down from 26 per cent in 2018-19. However, there has been a small increase among younger students, going from 7.6 per cent to 8.5 per cent, according to a Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey.

The Near North District School Board operated a pilot project with vape detectors in bathrooms and locker rooms at one school and said it was successful in addressing e-cigarette use at school.

The board saw a “steep” rise in vaping on school property since the COVID-19 pandemic, it wrote in a report. In order to tackle the issue, the board said vape detectors were installed, staff received training on vaping behaviour and culture, parents were provided with information, and students were educated on the harm of vaping, with people “consistently caught vaping at school” given addiction counselling and cessation programs.

“Data collected during the 2022-2023 school year demonstrated great success in addressing the problem of e-cigarette use on campus, as well as combating the associated problems including washroom congregation and vandalism,” the board wrote in its report.

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“We believe that this approach can be duplicated at other secondary schools and will therefore be expanding the program in 2023-2024.”

The $30 million in funding over three years will be available to school boards for other school safety equipment as well, such as security cameras, lighting and other security upgrades.

The equipment will help enhance safety in schools and on school property, in order to address both in-school violence and incidents within the community that affect schools, Lecce said.

Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the root causes of violence in schools need to be better addressed with more funding and help for students.

“You can have a security camera – how does that stop something from happening?” she said.

“Incidents are happening across the province from JK to Grade 12 and we don’t have the supports in place. We don’t have the mental health supports the social workers, psychologists and that’s where we need to be looking at addressing the issues, not putting another camera in place.”

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