Little evidence to show metal detectors needed

info@islandpacket.comMay 16, 2013 

Police barricade the entrance to Bluffton High School during a May 1 lockdown. Bluffton Police took a 17-year-old male student in custody after he spoke to a teacher and said he had weapons.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

The call to install metal detectors at Beaufort County high schools is not surprising after a Bluffton High School student brought a loaded gun to school.

But outside this one incident, there isn't compelling evidence that metal detectors are warranted or would necessarily prevent a violent incident at a local school.

No one can guarantee the safety of children at school. The fact that we have armed police officers at our middle and high schools may be the best hope for deterring or stopping violence. The school resource officers certainly improve the odds of a quick response to a dangerous situation. Local police officers are equipped and trained to respond to school emergencies.

In Beaufort County, hand-held metal detectors have been used before. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office used the devices to check students coming into Hilton Head Island High School and other schools in southern Beaufort County after a series of bomb threats in late 1999. The district purchased 30 hand-held metal detectors early the next year. Everyone entering Bluffton High was searched with a metal-detector wand in 2005 after a student threatened violence against Bluffton schools in an online chat room.

Should we do more? Many school districts across the country have grappled with the question. No one has come up with a single solution that works. Shootings have occurred inside schools with metal detectors. More often, a combination of tactics are used to ensure safe schools.

National School Safety and Security Services, a school safety consulting company that advises districts about how to prevent and manage school violence, poses these questions to schools considering metal detectors:

  • Does the school have a single entrance that can be used to funnel students through for a weapons check?

  • Can other entrances to the school be secured?

  • What are the costs to install and maintain metal detectors?

  • What staff costs would be incurred? What type of training will be provided?

  • How long would it take for students to go through the metal detectors? Would it affect starting classes on time?

  • What would be the impact on students? Would a "prison-like" environment created?

  • What would you do to secure school buses or school grounds?

  • What do you do about after-school activities?

  • The company warns against knee-jerk reactions for or against metal detectors.

    Assuming our district still has the hand-held devices purchased in 2000, perhaps they could be used to conduct periodic, random searches, the same type of searches done for illegal drugs at school.

    Bill Bond, school safety specialist for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, points out that when someone arrives at a school already shooting, a metal detector at the door does no good.

    Bond also correctly notes that metal detectors make sense when there is an "ongoing, persistent situation with weapons coming into school."

    We see no signs of a persistent problem here. Better to follow Bond's advice and invest resources where they will do the most good. At Bluffton High, for example, that could be student counseling and mental health intervention. Bluffton High was well served by a teacher who picked up on a troubled students signals and acted on them.

    Installing metal detectors might make us feel better about sending our children to school, but would they really be any safer?

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