The Pros and Cons of Installing Metal Detectors in Schools
School and university officials must consider both the benefits and the drawbacks of every security investment, like this common entryway solution.
Cons of Installing Metal Detectors in Schools
Sending the Wrong Message
The two largest school districts in the country — New York City Schools (NYS) and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) — have faced criticism for their use of metal detectors on school grounds.
Parent groups in New York, for instance, argued in 2015 that the devices were unnecessary and discriminatory because they were mostly installed in the schools with the most minority students.
Schools Consider Metal Detectors After South Florida Shooting
Following February’s tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in south Florida, many school officials are considering purchasing metal detectors for their buildings, including the district where the shooting took place.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie says the district is considering installing metal detectors at front entrances of high schools.
The detectors are one of several security enhancements on the table. That list also includes bullet-proof glass.
Also in Florida, Hillsborough County School Board member Lynn Gray is calling for metal detectors in every middle school and high school in the district.
“It is not a question of if a shooting will occur, it is a question of when,” Gray wrote in a statement. “When the [Parkland] incident happened just a while ago, it could have been one of our schools.”
Many other officials from school districts in states including South Carolina and Connecticut have also called for metal detectors in school buildings.
Still, Steve Hutton, the director of the Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline at Eastern Kentucky University, believes there are better ways to secure a school building.
“In my opinion, metal detectors give folks a false sense of security,” he says. “Kids know how to beat metal detectors … They could slip a gun through a window or get help from a buddy to get it into the school. For my money, there’s nothing that tops having a school resource officer in a building.”
The union for NYS school safety agents has said the machines are critical to school security, citing a fatal campus stabbing by a student that police said could have been prevented if a metal detector had been installed at the school.
In 2016, LAUSD faculty members and student advocates criticized a district policy to conduct random metal detector searches of students at all secondary schools.
“There’s an inherent tension between beefed-up security on one end of the rope and maintaining a welcoming, supportive school climate on the other,” Ken Trump, a school security consultant who heads National School Safety and Security Services, told the Christian Science Monitor in 2016.
Steve Hutton, the director of the Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline at Eastern Kentucky University, believes school officials should instead focus on building relationships with students.
“You need to look below the surface,” Hutton explains. “For me, it’s about helping all kids feel capable, connected and contributing within the school. I tend to look to build relationships with kids as a starting place.”
Arguably the biggest factor slowing the adoption of metal detectors in schools and colleges is the cost associated with purchasing them. Many buildings on college campuses, for instance, have several frequently-used entrances that can make screening ineffective without the purchase of a large number of machines.
K-12 schools, meanwhile, may not have the money to buy the machines for even one front entrance.
Vazquez says the biggest difference he sees when dealing with customers in the education industry compared to elsewhere is the emphasis on cost.
“It’s all about budget,” he says. “That’s one of the biggest challenges for schools, they don’t have the budget. But the world isn’t going to change, so I say get the equipment you need, whether it be camera systems or access control or whatever. Find the budget somehow. Fundraise if you have to; just make it happen.”
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