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Metal Detectors in Schools (Pros and Cons)

Dianna is a writer with a background in education and business. She writes to inspire and encourage others.

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Present View on School Safety Measures

Recently I spoke with parents on the growing concern over school safety measures in their children's schools. Although the increase of school violence and shootings prompts them to voice a strong opinion, the argument for and against metal detectors dominates the conversations.

A current poll of approximately 85 parents shows that 87% favored metal detectors in schools. Reasons in favor of it were based upon safety of children, and a strong deterrent of weapons in school. Those against installation (13%) stated the use of metal detectors created a hostile learning environment, distrust among students and educators, and the cost would increase school taxes. Overall, most parents vote in favor of metal detectors in public schools because it gives parents and children a sense of security at school. Parents believe that children do not function well when they believe the learning environment is unsafe. The emotional and social well being of a child affects the intellectual thinking process.

Ken Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, cautions parents and schools against reacting too quickly, thus making decisions that may impact a school drastically through cost and school image. The expense of hiring and training personnel must be considered and the perception of a prison-type learning environment must be avoided. As of March 2019, the views from the National School and Safety Security Services have not changed: "They may serve as a risk-reduction tool, when properly deployed, but like any other single strategy cannot offer the ‘guarantee’ that some perceive them to provide. We simply need to implement and sustain the best practices consistently and in a balanced, comprehensive approach over time."

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) states schools must not over-emphasize extreme physical security measures as it may undermine the learning environment while not necessarily safeguarding students. They also report there is no clear evidence the use of metal detectors, security cameras, and guards in schools prevent school violence, and that the research is insufficient in determining if metal detectors reduce the risk of violent behavior among students.

On School Safety Measures

"They may serve as a risk-reduction tool, when properly deployed, but like any other single strategy cannot offer the ‘guarantee’ that some perceive them to provide. We simply need to implement and sustain the best practices consistently and in a balanced, comprehensive approach over time."

— Ken Trump, President National School Safety and Security Services

Current Public School Security Statistics

Current Public School Security Statistics

Statistics on School Security Measures and School Violence

Statistical DataSource

In 2009, 68% of students ages 12- 18 report the presence of security guards in school; 70% report the use of security cameras; 11% report the use of metal detectors.

NASP (2013, January 9)

In the 2009-10 school year, 61% of public schools reported using one or more security cameras to monitor students (up from 19% in 1999-2000).

NASP (2013, Januuary 9)

Of all youth homocides, less than 2% occur at school, this percentage has been stable over the past decade.

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

17 homocides of school-age youth ages 5 to 18 years occurred at school during the 2009-2010 school year.

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

26% of black students report passing through metal detectors compared to 5.4% of white students. Nationwide, predominately black inner schools place a higher premium on security than rural and suburban schools.

Ivory Toldson, PH.D, Journal of Negro Education, Nov. 30, 2012

In 2009 -2010, one-third of public schools (23,200 total) used armed guards as safety measures. The cost to arm the other two-thirds is estimated at $2.5 million.

J. Halford, "Policies for Caring and Achievement", M.ASCD.org

2014-2015: News reported 812 school shootings and bomb threats targeting preK-12 schools. Threats were up 158% from prior school year.

National School Safety and Security Services, March 2016

National Internal Security: School Administration and Staff

National Internal Security: School Administration and Staff

Alternative Security Measures

I remember locker checks being the most intrusive search method during my high school years. Today, students not only have random locker checks but must endure security guard and assigned police officer searches. Occasionally, a canine unit is brought in for other reasons, such as drug checks.

Other security measures include:

  • Locked entrance and exists during school hours
  • School staff or adult supervision in hallways
  • Safety shelters in classrooms
  • Student ID cards
  • Security Cameras
  • Enforcement of Code of conduct policy
  • Arm teachers with guns

Pros and Cons of School Metal Detectors

The Fourth Amendment: Search and Seizure

New Jersey State Supreme Court ruling states a simple reasonable standard governs all searches of students' persons and effects by school authorities (includes use of metal detectors). The search must be reasonable at its inception and there must be reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or violating the laws and rules of the school. (469 U.S. at 343) The US Supreme court upholds the ruling, stating that the age and vulnerability of the student population and school responsibility for their well being balances the application of the law under the Fourth Amendment.

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Student rights must be in accordance with school policy and setting. The law declares their rights are not the same as adults, meaning school administration has the responsibility to maintain and enforce discipline necessary for a good education.

The Fifth Amendment, which covers basic "fundamental" fairness, allows for each student found guilty certain rights:

  • Specific Information on the crime or charge
  • Evidence found connected to the charge explained
  • Opportunity to respond on her or his behalf ("Opportunity to be heard")

Fourth and Fifth Amendments are applicable in the following circumstances:

  • Drug testing students in extracurricular activities
  • Drug sniffing dogs on campus
  • Locker searches and metal detectors
  • Backpacks, wallet, and personal computer searches
  • Searching a student's car in the parking lot

Overall, schools and government must provide student constitutional rights and balance it with a right for safety in preventing school violence.

Data Source: National School Boards Association, Council of School Attorneys (NSBA)

Peace by What Means?

If God be our God, He will give us peace in trouble. When there is a storm without, He will make peace within. The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble. —Thomas Watson

Averting School Violence

School violence breeds injustice among the student population which can manifest itself through bullying and intimidation. Violence doesn't just affect an individual, it encompasses and infects families and communities. Left unchecked, it will spread and develop into character, creating a mindset open to violence.

Administrators desiring to curb school violence can take precautions and provide curriculum conducive to positive decision making and social interaction. Addressing the origins of hostility and aggression begins with enhancing student learning through programs designed to help them cope and avert potential harm. Conflict resolutions and reflective listening skills are tools successfully used to communicate and redirect aggression.

Here are additional suggestions:

  • Basic ethics is a must. Children who can show empathy and a caring nature serve as role models and leaders among peers. Developing positive social skills coincides with peaceful learning environments. With little cost and effort, character building can be integrated successfully into academic studies.
  • Setting up a buddy system for younger children is a must! My grandchildren's school has such a program in place and it not only helps children to adjust and feel a part of the group, but also builds leadership skills in those that mentor or assist others.
  • Staff training on diversity and culture. Teachers who understand student beliefs and practices portray an understanding and caring attitude. Children will react favorably to administration and staff who reach out to support them in this manner.
  • Establish forums and activities where students can express themselves without fear of being ridiculed or embarrassed leads to trust and respect. Encouraging teachers to attend student extracurricular activities also sends a message of support and cultivates harmony. Sports and club memberships deter gang activity. Schools must make every effort to keep these in the curriculum.
  • Lastly, monitoring hallways, restrooms, isolated areas on the school grounds and buildings averts potential danger. Soliciting parent volunteers for these roles, or rotating staff to cover these areas, will improve security and provide students with peace of mind.

Metal Detectors In Schools

One Parent's Personal View

The following is an excerpt from a speech made by Ms. Marlo Davis Hill, an advocate for the installation of Metal Detectors in Palm Beach County Florida schools.

Regarding the recent school shootings, we all have to wonder: are our kids safe? Hopefully, we can all agree that our kids need to be much safer at school. Let me see if I can get your attention; do you know how many kids have died from school shootings thus far? This year, 328 children have lost their lives over shootings. (January 22, 2013 statistic). The list will continue to grow if we as parents do not act now.

The majority of the schools in the United States do NOT use metal detectors on a day-to-day basis. How does that make you feel when sending your child to school? Some parents think it is time the school took our kids safety a little more seriously. The rate of gun ownership in the US is 19.5 times higher than similar high-income countries in the world. In the past thirty years, since 1982, America has mourned at least 61 mass murders.

Metal detectors do not just pick up guns and knives, they pick up metal objects, including bombs. As a parent, I teach my kids that guns are dangerous. But, can you say other parents do the same? Do you know that a metal detector can save not only my child, but yours?

As I conclude, please keep in mind that as parents, we must protect our children at any given moment. I don't know about you, but when I read 328 kids have lost their lives over shooting, it deeply hurts. Think about it, maybe those parents never fought for a metal detector. If it could have saved their kids lives, do you think they would? Unlike them, you have a chance not only to see your kids another day, but to protect them. What is your choice today? I know mine is to protect my child at any cost.

Ms. Marlo Davis Hill is an advocate for the use of metal detectors in schools: "We can save not only my child, but yours..."

Ms. Marlo Davis Hill is an advocate for the use of metal detectors in schools: "We can save not only my child, but yours..."

Share Your View . . .

Safety Shelters in Classrooms

Taking Measures of Security on Behalf of Children

Discuss the topic of violence as soon as you believe him or her to reach the age of reasoning on this issue. Ask open-ended questions about how they feel about it or how they perceive others who display violent behavior. Remember to keep your conversation age-appropriate and to communicate in a non-threatening, calm manner. Use caution in sharing more than your child is able to understand. Let your child know you believe her or him to be a good person and point out how their actions positively influence others.

Watch for Warning Signs

Your child may demonstrate certain behavior that indicates a fear or concern about school activities. Sudden withdrawal from sports, clubs, friends, etc., or anxiety about attending school may be a sign of bullying or fear for individual safety. Do not hesitate to intervene and let your child know that you can help. Often, children feel that they are alone and dread the possibility of being scolded. Talk to your child's teacher about the changes you have noticed and ask for advice.

Join The PTA or Local Chapter of the School Violence Prevention Coalition

PTA's across the nation are addressing the need for stronger school safety measures. Join and become an advocate for your school community. If necessary, form a community forum to address issues such as emergency response plans, crisis intervention, or panel on reasons and prevention of school violence. You may want to address issues with the media to keep citizens informed of school progress on this issue. Lastly, contact your legislator. This may be an opportunity to submit a petition or to influence laws impacting education and safety.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What are the Pros and Cons to having metal detectors in schools?

Answer: Many parents would argue metal detectors create anxiety in students and foster an environment of fear. However, there are those who believe it deters possible threats and signals a place of safety. Schools systems must consider the cost of installing and maintaining such a system but what price do we put on one life saved?

© 2013 Dianna Mendez

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