“We don’t want students feeling like they’re going into prison”: experts, school officials weigh in on metal detectors in schools

Published: May. 17, 2022 at 7:44 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - After two different students have brought a weapon into different area schools in the last month, KWTX found no Central Texas school that isn’t an alternative campus it reached out to regularly uses metal detectors, and experts say they aren’t a realistic fix to problems facing schools today.

Johnny Price, owner of Big Iron School Safety Training that serves Waco, Temple and Killeen, says metal detectors come with many challenges.

“Our schools aren’t prisons, it’s a shame our world has gotten the way it is but you don’t want [students] feeling like they’re locked up in a prison.”

Johnny Price

“There’s lots of entrances kids can open doors they can’t have metal detectors at every single door,” he added.

“You have hundreds if not thousands of students coming in at the same time,” Michael Novotny, Superintendent of Salado ISD said.

With so many students arriving to one building at the same time, Price says adding metal detectors can cause significant delays in the school day.

A study from the Department of Justice looking at average times students arrive at school in the morning. Based on a school with a population of 1,000, it shows how long it would take students to get into the building through a single metal detector, scanning 15 people a minute.

Once the hypothetical school day starts, it shows more than 500 students still be waiting to go through the metal detector, and ten minutes into the school day, more than 400 still waiting.

When it adds a second portal to the same 1,000 population, wait times go down but still leave students in line for the metal detector after the tardy bell rings.

Its not until a third metal detector is added that 1,000 people could get scanned into school on time according to the study.

The problem with adding several scanners is the cost, the same study found that an average metal detector would cost between $4,000 and $5,000 per machine.

“The biggest expense would be to have employees constantly there staffing it, you could use a bond to buy the machines but paying the staff would be a constant expense” Novotny said.

The department of justice found that for the thousands of public schools in Texas, purchasing and staffing metal detectors could cost millions.

KWTX reached out to a dozen local schools to find out if they use metal detectors.

Killeen ISD said in an email, “All Killeen ISD middle and high schools have metal detectors and wands that are used at the campus’s discretion on implementation. For reference, it usually takes a large high school (2,000 students) about 30-45 minutes to process students through which takes away time from in the classroom. As an alternative we have used them on various days/times, during lunch, and outside of classrooms.”

Its the only district that has metal detectors on all middle and high school campuses.

Temple ISD has them at its high school but only to be used for drills. “Our Disciplinary Alternative Education Center has a metal detector at the front entrance. At Temple High School, metal detecting wands are used as part of our routine emergency drill procedures,” a spokesperson said.

Midway, Waco and China Spring also say they only use metal detectors in its alternative schools.

“Our Challenge Academy has the wands and Wiley Opportunity Center has the walk through metal detectors,” A Waco ISD spokesperson said. The G.L. Wiley Opportunity Center serves as an alternative campus for students who have had behavioral issues on their home campus.

Midway ISD told KWTX, “We have a metal detector at our disciplinary placement campus. The School Resource Officers have access to metal detector wands if needed.”

Salado, Belton and Holland all say they don’t use metal detectors for many of the reasons explained by Price and the Department of Defense report.

A Belton ISD spokesperson says, “We consistently work with our campus safety teams, a district safety committee, school resource officers, local law enforcement resources, and with guidance from the Texas School Safety Center to develop and implement best practices. Metal detectors and wands are not currently recommend as a best practice, however, we continue to evaluate our safety measures and could consider them in the future.”

Holland ISD’s superintendent Shane Downing said, “We do not have metal detectors, our students do not stay contained in one location during the day. They are in and out of various buildings all day due to the location of our science department, Ag Department, Athletics field house, cafeteria, and band hall. They are all out of the main high school building. Logistically, it would be difficult to have all students go through a metal detector that many times. We do not employ school resource officers at this time to support this process.

We have discussed our existing code of conduct but no changes have been finalized.”

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