Are Metal Detectors the Answer? School Leaders Say Training Works Better Than Machines at High Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Kerry Lester

Elgin High School senior Zoe Marszalek knows her school uses hand-held metal detectors to find weapons, even cell phones, on students.

Still, in four years, Marszalek has never once been "wanded."

"A lot of my friends haven't ever had it done to them, either," she said this week.

Unlike Chicago Public Schools, where a majority of high schools feature walk-through metal detectors, Elgin High officials use a portable wand twice a month to check randomly selected classrooms.

Elgin Area School District U-46 safety procedures now are being inspected after a 16-year-old student was accused Friday of using a steak knife brought from home to attack teacher Carolyn Gilbert.

Metal detectors, often one of the first suggestions to arise after a violent event at a school, may not be the solution, district safety coordinator John Heiderscheidt said Tuesday.

"Metal detectors at every entrance is a decision that can't be made in just one moment," he said.

The Illinois State Board of Education does not keep data on the use of metal detectors in schools, officials said.

Even without that data, metal detectors in suburban schools appear to be more of an exception than a rule.

Sherry Anderson, a spokeswoman for DuPage High School District 88, said metal detectors and wanding "are not items of discussion as part of our safety and security measures."

The district relies on surveillance cameras and a visitor check- in policy at a designated entrance.

"This has really worked for us," Anderson said. "Items like metal detectors aren't foolproof."

Maine Township High School District 207 Superintendent Joel Morris said the district revamped safety policies for its three high schools this year, but metal detectors were never considered.

District 207's new system identifies at-risk or alienated students and attempts to intervene with them early on. …