EVANS COLUMN: Metal detector discussion needs time to be deeply investigated

Published 10:30 am Saturday, August 27, 2022

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Like many of you, I am a parent of a child in the Troup County School System.

My 5-year-old loves school to the point that she jumps out of bed every morning, dresses herself and practically skips out the door. There’s probably a few of you reading this who are thinking “I remember those days.” I know it won’t last forever.

When the Uvalde shooting happened, I remember lying in bed at night trying to determine how I can do more as a member of society to prevent that from happening again. I wondered how we can put politics aside to find real solutions. I honestly think it’ll be one of the defining challenges of my generation. Many people in their early 30s are parents like I am. So with that thought in mind, I wondered how my generation would handle this ongoing challenge? Surely, by the time my grandchildren are in school one day in the distant future, we’ll have a solution to stop school shootings.

I also wondered how to even have a conversation with my daughter about school safety. You can’t talk to a 5-year-old about what happens if a “bad” person enters her school. But at what age do you even have that talk with a child? 

Two decades ago I’m not sure parents even wondered about that. Sadly, in 2022 that’s the world we live in..

The last thing we want is any child afraid to go into school, a place that is supposed to be a safe area to learn and grow.

And then a gun was found at the LaGrange High School campus on one of the first days of school. When I found out about the LHS incident, I was at lunch with my wife.

And we both wondered why the school didn’t have metal detectors. Based on social media comments, many of you wondered too.

As it turns out, the answer to that question is extremely complex. It’s not as simple as just placing metal detectors at front doors.

I wrote about some of the new metal detector task force’s thinking in today’s newspaper and the logistical concerns that metal detectors create in the school system.

But I also went to LaGrange High School earlier this week and toured it as students were arriving for the day. LHS is considered the biggest logistical concern of all of the local schools, and it’s easy to see why.

Students start their days in the gymnasium or the cafeteria, then usually go in and out of the main building as they change classes throughout the day. Do you place a metal detector at every entrance door? How many times a day will a student have to go through a metal detector, and how can you limit it without making foot traffic a challenge.

From talking to all involved, if metal detectors are determined to be the best course of action for student safety, then that will be the recommendation of the board. Money won’t hold it up, though it’s not as if TCSS is writing blank checks. Walk-through Metal detectors can apparently be purchased for anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a hundred thousand dollars. The big difference in price is how quickly people can walk through them, and whether or not bags have to be removed when doing so, which is important.

For high schools with more than 1,000 kids, the cheaper options just don’t sound as optimal.

If it takes an hour to get 300 or 400 students through one metal detector, how are they supposed to be in class by 8 a.m.? And as someone who walked through LHS Tuesday, there were almost no students on campus before 7:30 or so. H

ow would a metal detector change that timeline?

And, even when you figure all of that out, you’ve got to figure out who will actually man the metal detectors. The LaGrange Police Department and Troup County Sheriff’s Office do not have the manpower to do it, and the student resource officers on campus probably shouldn’t be stationed at a metal detector all day long.

Should we ask faculty members to man them? And would they even want to do it?

When a weapon is found now, faculty members deal with it initially until the SRO takes over the situation. But if faculty members man the metal detectors in the future, what will happen when a bag search is required? How will students respond if they are asked to step aside because the metal detector picked something up? Could that seemingly embarrassing situation for a student — especially a high schooler where everyone will know what’s going on — create a dangerous scenario for faculty members?

The answers just aren’t there right now, which is why the task force was created in the first place.

People I talk to in law enforcement tell me metal detectors add another level of security, but that they aren’t going to stop all threats. In fact, metal detectors can actually have the opposite effect of allowing people to let their guard down.

All of this probably makes it sound like I’m against metal detectors, but I’m actually not. I want anything that will keep our students safe, and before I started working on stories on this topic, I would’ve said it was a no brainer. However, I wonder if a metal detector is going to be more of a deterrent than a solution.

You can check every box, but if one student, teacher — anyone — leaves a door propped open at the wrong time or simply lets someone in who knocks on a door, all of it might go for naught.

And like many of you, I hate that we’re even having this conversation. We shouldn’t have to worry about the safety of our students at school. And we don’t want to make our schools feel like prisons, where you’ve got barbed wire around the outside of 20-foot high walls and armed guards at every entrance. Where’s the middle ground? I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone does.

But I do know that’s why the task force was formed. It’s why TCSS pumped the brakes on making a decision on metal detectors last week. As parents, we all want our students to be safe, and we all want solutions right now.

This needs to be studied deeply before being implemented. TCSS is making the right decision in taking extra time to ensure it can get answers before making the purchase.