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Metal Detectors are the Wrong Answer for Fayette County

By: Nick.Skid


On February, 2018, 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It was the largest school shooting in US history. The nation was horrified by the tragedy, and a newly sparked fear gripped families and students alike: ‘what if our school is next?’.
Just 19 days later, a Lexington teenager was arrested with a rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition after he had threatened a massacre at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Four days after this news broke, a student snuck a handgun into Frederick Douglass High School, shooting himself in the hand.
After seeing so much death around the country, and then witnessing how that same kind of violence was entering our city’s schools, I understand why families demanded that schools in Fayette County be made more secure. Lexington was gripped by a real, undeniable fear that its children could be the victims of the next tragedy they watched on the news.
We were all afraid.
School administrators realized this. Less than 24 hours after the self-shooting at Douglas, FCPS Superintendent Manny Caulk announced that stationary metal detectors would be installed at Frederick Douglass High School, with the promise of more on the way. This July, the school district finalized plans to have stationary metal detectors in every public middle school and high school.
For many parents, this was a much desired reassurance that their children would, at least, be more safe going to school every day. So if this district’s goal was solely to relieve families of the stress that gun violence causes, they were successful in reaching this end.
Unfortunately, the perception of school security is all that these metal detectors add. By August of next year, when the metal detector program is expected to be fully implemented, our students will be no more safe from a massacre than the day the student at Douglas shot himself in the hand.
To understand where this new metal detector program falls short, we have to first look into how they will be used. Thankfully, a September 11th video published by the Herald Leader documents exactly how these metal detectors are being used at FDHS now, and how they will be used countywide in the future.
Every morning, students will be asked to remove belts, watches, and any other accessory which could set off a metal detector, before walking through the airport-like scanner. If they have any metal on their person, the alarm would sound, and the student would presumably be asked to remove any other metal or be subject to a more thorough search.
Herein lies the first, major issue. While the metal detectors can scan someone’s body, the district does not have any type of scanner for backpacks. As absurd as it sounds, the only new policy the district has implemented to keep students from sneaking a gun in their backpack is a quick unzipping of the students backpack and superficial search of their items. Unless someone has a sawed off shotgun quite literally sticking out of their backpack, law enforcement is extremely unlikely to catch the threat. Unless schools want to spend five minutes ripping apart every container in a student’s backpack, there is nothing stopping the next Fredrick Douglas hand-shooter from sticking his handgun in a harmless looking pencil pouch and waltzing past security.
But forget the handgun shooters. What many fear the most is the possibility of a mass shooting, like the Parkland shooting, or the Columbine massacre. Even if these metal detectors could infallibly tell what students did and did not have a gun, they would be entirely useless in a mass-shooting scenario. In fact, they are very likely to ratchet up the death toll.
Metal detectors are now installed at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. As would could foresee happening at a school of over 1500 students, lines for metal detector scans were backed all the way up to the street around the start of classes. Dozens upon dozens of students were outside of the school, unarmed and undefended. In trying to protect teenagers from a hypothetical mass shooter, our county has inadvertently lined them up for a hypothetical slaying.
The fact of the matter is, these metal detectors, as they are currently being used, are nothing more than security theatre- an illusion to make PTA parents feel like their kids are safer, even though they are not. Worse still, for the practically non-existent benefits they provide, these metal detectors bring a whole host of problems of their own.
Remember that line that reached all the way to the street at Dunbar? That takes a long time to clear, and every day Dunbar has had metal detectors implemented this year, dozens of students who showed up to school on time missed instructional time because that they were being (ineffectively) searched for a gun, oftentimes missing half an hour or more of class.
The issues metal detectors create do not end in lost class time. A report published by Humble Independent School District in 2008 studies the effects of years of school security measures used by New York City public schools. Here’s what it had to say:
“Every day, over 93,000 city children cannot get to classes without passing through a gauntlet of metal detectors, bag-searches, and pat-downs administered by police personnel who are inadequately trained, insufficiently supervised, and often belligerent, aggressive
and disrespectful...These types of police interventions create
flashpoints for confrontations and divert students and teachers from invaluable classroom time. They make many students feel diminished and are wholly incompatible with the positive educational environment that children deserve.”
I could drudge up a litany of other studies which all show that metal detectors create a pervasive negative atmosphere in the school environment. But really, isn’t this conclusion one that we could arrive at on our own?
If adults were pulled over by the police, every day, and had all of their personal items searched on their way to work, we would have a very unhappy population on our hands in Lexington. To assume that students wouldn’t have the same vitriolic reaction to having their time wasted and their personal effects rummaged through every morning would be illogical.
Like I said before, I understand why we want to have metal detectors. At a time in which school shootings have become a regular segment on network news, we want something- anything- that can make us feel like our world is safer than it is. We demand that our school districts solve this issue, but that is unfair of us to do.
Mannie Caulk can’t prevent weapons of war from being sold to deranged lunatics. He can’t change an American culture that desensitizes violence and glorifies killers. No matter how much we ask, Mannie Caulk cannot protect us from the terrible violence and tragedy that grips our country. The best he can do is offer us a solution that makes us feel better.
After seeing how ineffective metal detectors are, I ask that you do not invade students’ privacy, degrade their learning environment, and take away their instructional time, all in pursuit of an illusion of security.
I’ll leave you with the sentiment of FCPS spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall, as she explained the position held by our school district just three months ago.
"After studying the possibility of installing stationary metal detectors in our schools last spring, we determined that it was not a feasible or desirable direction for our district to pursue. Our comprehensive high schools serve between 1,600 and 2,300 students. Asking that many students to pass through metal detectors each day does not create the kind of campus climate that we value.

Message to Readers

Does this argument sound logically sound and persuasive?

Peer Review

Delighted: the quality of this opinion essay is incredibly high. The quotes are seamlessly worked in, the ideas are crystal clear, and the message is powerful (I sense some pathos and logos being wielded in this piece)

Walking out of this essay, I'm finding myself asking how much all of this security would cost. But I can see why it isn't included in the essay as a key point: it disrupts the entire logical flow. I would like to see it included as a description, perhaps - "The [however much it costs] security system" or something like that. It would sway me more towards the side of the author. Just a suggestion.

Reviewer Comments

This article is very much logically sound and persuasive. Good job!

I might personally not agree with this viewpoint (safety sounds very nice) but I still found it incredibly compelling.