As part of plans for a major $9.6 million Measure I1 network upgrade, Pleasanton Unified School District is considering installing vape sensors at local middle and high school campuses to detect students using electronic smoking devices.
Over the past year, numerous parents and youths have complained to PUSD about students vaping in school bathrooms and also urged local government officials to ban the sale of e-vape substances and devices within Pleasanton city limits.
"There's not a lot of school districts that are using them at this time, so to a certain extent we'd be on the cutting edge -- and one might say bleeding edge -- about the adoption of that sort of technology," said Amy Nichols, PUSD senior director of procurement and technology, during a presentation at the Board of Directors regular meeting on Tuesday night.
The sensors -- which were not included in the project's original estimate -- run about $275,000. But after the district received a $468,000 e-Rate grant to offset the associated costs last year, the project estimates were less than expected.
A more recent opportunity came about to apply for another $300,000 e-Rate grant if the district upgrades the Wi-Fi system, which Nichols said that "if approved, that reimbursement would bring our estimated net project costs down to about $9.3 million."
It's an amount that "would put us under the estimates that were reached as part of the 2018 facilities master planning process" and leave the district enough cash to purchase the vape sensors, she said.
"We have not received input or feedback from other school districts that would necessarily validate their use in the same way that we have for the voice over IP or something like that," Nichols added. "For that reason, we've listed it as an alternate or something to be considered, but there are questions about how well that will solve the problems that we're trying to solve."
Trustee Mark Miller, who phoned in from Houston on Tuesday evening, gave his recommendation "that we continue to study that particular part." Trustee Joan Laursen concurred with Miller, adding that she would like to "pilot that in a small sample first."
PUSD is aiming to finish upgrading the entire voice over internet protocol (VOIP) network for district-wide phone and voicemail service. Network cabling in classrooms and offices throughout the district needs upgrading before new clocks, phones, bells and public announcement speakers can be installed, according to PUSD.
The first phase of the project, which involved adding new switching and inter-building cabling, started last spring and is almost finished at all sites.
The district "anticipates significant operating cost savings from the general fund" of about $70,000 annually as a result of transitioning their telecommunications infrastructure, according to staff. Phone services for PUSD currently cost around $120,000 each year.
Staff will return to the board with more details and information about the project including timelines sometime next month.
In other business
* Toward the beginning of the meeting, the trustees pulled a policy concerning student cellphone use from the consent agenda, a list of district business items considered routine and that are usually passed all at once without any discussion.
Students will be allowed to "use cell phones, smart watches, pagers, or other mobile communication devices on campus during non-instructional time as long as the device is utilized in accordance with law and any rules that individual school sites may impose."
Cellphones must be turned off or set to "Do not disturb" during class time but special accommodations for a student's health plan or individualized education program can be made.
The policy also states that "when a school official reasonably suspects that a search of a student's mobile communication device will turn up evidence of the student's violation of the law or school rules, such a search shall be conducted" in accordance with the district's search and seizure policy.
But according to the California Electronic Privacy Act (CEPA) of 2015, no government entity, including school districts, may legally "access electronic device information by means of physical interaction or electronic communication with the electronic device" without a signed warrant, wiretap order, subpoena, or the express consent of the device's owner.
The law does allow an exception for emergencies, which are defined as a situation "involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person (that) requires access to the electronic device information."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California's website also states that schools cannot require students to sign a waiver allowing faculty to search their phone at any time, and that students may refuse to show their phone content including text messages, pictures and social media usage to administration.
CEPA also prohibits government officials from searching mobile devices, even if a student causes a disruption with their phone, breaks another rule or uses their phone when they're not supposed to. According to the ACLU, school officials may not search a student's phone to investigate another student's misconduct either.
PUSD administrators did not discuss any revision to the policy language and instead focused on the district's previous actions concerning student phone searches Tuesday night.
"The question is about reviewing cellphones when we have possession of them," said Kathleen Rief, student services director for PUSD.
According to Rief, school administrators are often made aware of potential concerns by students themselves and "will come to the office and provide printouts of things they've seen on social media or they pull out their phones and they show us screenshots of different things that they've seen."
"We don't ask a student specifically to possess their cellphone with the intent to search their phone," she added. "Generally, what happens is they come to us, show us something that's on it and then we'll produce and print that information there, so we do follow all state and federal laws in terms of privacy."
The board unanimously approved the policy without any amendment to the language.
* During public comment on Tuesday, several parents of children attending Pleasanton Middle School shared their concerns about recent reports of bullying, harassment and fighting on campus. One recent fight at PMS that injured a student was reportedly filmed by an onlooker and posted to social media, according to one mother who said she’d also witnessed “plenty of racial and homophobic slurs, bullying, disrespect to staff, garbage being thrown onto the ground and...lack of supervision” while volunteering at the school.
“I’m not asking you to raise my child or anyone else’s but the reality is my child is in your care the majority of his days,” Sara Campbell said about her son being bullied at Pleasanton Middle, as well as other students. “Habitual trouble students have taken time away from other students learning and have created an environment of anxiety and fear. Our children deserve a safe environment to learn in and this is not happening.”
“I’m asking that we hold parents accountable at this time. The beating that happened to that child is absurd and should not have happened,” she added.
Cathryn Roach said her son doesn’t want to go to school after seeing fights and being harassed by his peers at PMS. “At least twice a week children are coming up to him, asking him if he wants to fight and when he says no, they make fun of him and ridicule him,” Roach said. “He shouldn’t be going through this--no child should be going through this, but the administration is not trying hard enough. They’re not involving the parents, they’re not listening, and if they are, they’re not letting it (be) known that they’re listening.”
One parent thanked district staff that evening for supporting her son after he “fell prey to significant bullying and harassment” at the start of the school year and left the classroom for several weeks as a result. Donalyn Harris said that her son’s teachers were “willing and eager to make school a safe place where he wanted to be again” and even made home visits to encourage his eventual return.
“The effects of bullying and harassment in middle school are agonizingly real,” she said. “They upend the daily lives of the student’s entire family, but the available support and dedication of the PUSD community members has made a world of difference in my son’s outcome.”
Due to public meeting laws, the Board was restricted from commenting on speaker remarks.