School Safety and Metal Detectors
At last week’s board meeting, we finally had a chance to learn more about the district’s new metal detector pilot program. I was glad to see the administration provide more details and answer questions about this program.
I have previously expressed general concerns about using metal detectors in schools. In short, I worry that they provide a false sense of security. I certainly understand the perspective of those who support the use of metal detectors. Everyone wants to protect our students, and I am 100% sure that metal detector proponents believe this will help.
I just don’t think this issue is as simple as some suggest. Here is a recent opinion piece that, I believe, does a good job of setting out concerns regarding metal detectors. Moreover, many school safety experts do not believe metal detectors measurably improve safety. Here is a 15-year study that concluded that there was insufficient data to conclude that metal detectors reduce violence in schools. Finally, as this article demonstrates, nearly every South Carolina school shooting has occurred outside the actual school building (in the parking lot, on the bus, etc.).
The most common question I have encountered is, “if we use metal detectors for sporting events, why would we not use them every day at school?” That’s a reasonable question. The reason, as explained to me by a law enforcement official, is that a sporting event usually has one entrance and one exit. They have so much control in that environment. At most schools during a normal school day there are many entrances making it virtually impossible to have the same control during the 10-12 hours that the school is operating. I have spoken to a number of principals who have simply said, “if a student wants to get a weapon in the school, they will find a way.”
The utility of metal detectors is extremely narrow and I am not sure it is worth redirecting finite resources that we could use in other areas related to school safety. For example, we need more hall monitors, and we need to pay hall monitors more than we’re paying them now (around $17,000). They can provide critical and consistent eyes and ears in our schools, and they can address a broader range of issues that impact school climate and safety. And, of course, we need more mental health and other supports. A lot more. I was encouraged to learn that we have hired additional social workers, but we have a long way to go. When I speak with teachers, I am reminded that we still don’t have anywhere near the support staff to help address the challenges many of our students bring to the classroom. I also spent a couple of hours meeting with students last night. Their message was clear–they need more support at school.
We also learned a couple of details about the procedures the district is using. I have concerns about two issues.
First, we learned that in addition to using metal detectors, we are also searching every student’s bag (not just bags that set off the metal detector). I am concerned that these searches do not comply with the law which generally doesn’t allow us to search any student’s bag without a particular reason. And these searches are definitely inconsistent with our current policy regarding searches. Again, I understand the desire to search every student’s bag, but we also have to make sure we are doing this in the appropriate way. To me at least, this demonstrates why it would have been far better to involve the board and have these discussions and policy reviews before beginning this pilot program.
Second, I asked whether teachers were being asked to search students’ bags. It took a while to get a straight answer (watch at the 1:41:00 minute mark), but we eventually learned that teachers were being asked to conduct these bag searches. I do not think teachers should have to take on this responsibility.