Task force meets on TCSS metal detectors

Published 9:30 am Saturday, August 27, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A task force formed by the Troup County School System to study the issue of metal detectors — and other safety alternatives — is hoping to have a recommendation for the school board by January 2023.

The task force includes Steve Heaton, TCSS’ school safety director, two principals, law enforcement representatives from the LaGrange Police Department and Troup County Sheriff’s Office and several others. The committee met for the first time Wednesday after metal detectors came up during last week’s school board meeting.

At first, it appeared the board might actually take a vote on metal detectors at its Thursday board meeting, but after discussing some of the logistical concerns, TCSS decided to slow down and form a task force to investigate the issue.

Heaton said the committee determined it will be taking a trip to Clayton County Schools, which uses metal detectors, to study how they are implemented there.

“We’re going to take a look at it and what that looks like, how they’ve implemented it in their high schools,” Heaton said. “I’m sure they have high schools that are very similar to ours and with some of the similar problems.”

One alternative discussed was a K9 explosive detection dog being used, but Heaton said it was merely exploratory and the committee will discuss the viability of that at its next meeting on Sept. 7.

Heaton said that the cheaper metal detectors can cost a few thousand dollars apiece, but they also require students to remove their bags and only 300 to 400 people can go through them in an hour. The more expensive versions can cost over $80,000 but do not require bags to be removed and can cycle thousands of people through in an hour.

The other large question remains how TCSS would man the metal detectors. Heaton said he’s estimated it might cost up to a $1 million a year to man them, but it could cost much more, depending on how many people are hired and their salary.

“We need to do a pretty thorough process of looking at our options, but I want to make sure that it’s an aggressive timeline,” Heaton said.

Stewart Smith is one of two representatives from the Troup County Sheriff’s Office on the committee, with Jon Whitney being the other. Smith said metal detectors would add another layer of protection, but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be threats.

“It’s certainly an added layer, but it’s not 100%,” Smith said. “I mean, there’s things that get through security at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.”

The committee does not include any school board members, but ultimately the board will make a decision on what to do moving forward. Cathy Hunt, who chairs the board, made it clear she was giving her own opinions, and not the opinion of the entire board, and said metal detectors should be strongly considered. However, she also said the logistical portion of it is going to be “enormous.”

“We have to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students and staff for their health and well-being. I hate to say it, but this is the road that our society has been going down, and I think we’re going to have to go in that direction,” Hunt said.

Hunt also said that the money portion of it is not the issue, it’s the logistics and trying to determine if metal detectors are the right answer for keeping students safe.

“There are things that money has to be spent on and I think this has become one at this point,” Hunt said.

Figuring out how to man a metal detector is a concern she shares with the members of the task force.

“As a former teacher, that’s something I would hate to see happen because as the years have gone by, we have just added more and more and more to teachers’ plates,” Hunt said. “Any talk about arming them or making them into security type personnel just goes against the grain with me.  I don’t like that idea at all. So the question then becomes, how do you man these?”

That answer remains a question mark, one that the task force will continue to study in the weeks ahead.

As that discussion continues, Hunt noted that TCSS continues to be thankful for people stepping forward when they do see something that could be a threat to the school system.

“It seems like in the past couple of years, we’ve had good results with the old see something, say something rule,” Hunt said. “Because I think a lot of times when people have been caught it’s because somebody else knew and they told somebody. And as long as people keep understanding the importance of doing that, as we take our time to get these other measures in place, that’s going to be key.”