Atlanta School Shooting Raises Doubts about Metal Detectors

Article excerpt

A shooting at an Atlanta middle school Thursday has prompted questions about the effectiveness of metal detectors as a school security measure.

Price Middle School has metal detectors. But its not clear if the shooter a 15-year-old student there, according to police went through a detector Thursday. He allegedly shot and wounded a 14- year-old student in a courtyard where students were moving between classes, and then was disarmed by an armed resource officer and taken into custody.

The courtyard is accessible from outside the school, but the alleged shooter had arrived at school earlier in the day, an Atlanta Public Schools spokeswoman says.

The Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., prompted an examination of school safety nationwide and calls for more armed security in schools, and Thursdays incident may bolster supporters of that approach.

There has not been a corresponding spike in interest in metal detectors, says Bill Bond, school safety specialist for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. When someone arrives at a school already shooting, he notes, a metal detector would make no difference.

Metal detectors are not practical for every school, but they are appropriate when you have an ongoing situation with weapons coming into school, Mr. Bond says. Still, theyre no more effective than the people running them are.

Even with good efforts by security officials, he says, 100 percent of the weapons wont be kept out by metal detectors. If a student wants to beat the system, students are smart enough to know how to beat the system and bypass that entrance with the metal detector, he says.

At a Friday afternoon press conference, Atlanta school and police officials said that the weapon was a small handgun and that it appeared at least three rounds were fired. They were investigating the possibility that the shooter and victim may have been part of groups that had gang affiliations.

They were also still investigating whether the metal detectors at Price were working and what screening of students was performed on Thursday. In general, principals set the policy, and administrators and staff who monitor the screening process are all trained, officials said.

Metal detectors are most common in urban school districts. About 12 percent of high schools, 9 percent of middle schools, and 2 percent of primary schools in the United States did random checks with metal detectors in 2009-10, according to a survey of school principals reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. Fewer than 2 percent of middle schools and 5 percent of high schools required students to pass through metal detectors daily.

School systems considering using metal detectors have to weigh carefully both the costs and the philosophical debates about whether metal detectors belong in schools at all.

Its not the metal detectors themselves, but the manpower hours that cost a lot.

Detectors can be purchased for about $5,000. But a report by the US Department of Justice in 1999 noted that New York City had to fund 100 additional security-officer hours per week for each school that screened for weapons with metal detectors. …