No Metal Detectors, Yet Suburban School Officials Not Ready to Go That Far

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Byline: Jim Allen and Teresa Mask Daily Herald Staff Writers

Steinmetz Academic Centre freshman Leonel Hernandez walked through a metal detector without setting it off, then waved his ID badge under a computer scanner Tuesday morning to log in.

In grade school, Hernandez never had to do this. Now it's part of the morning routine, like using a key to open his locker.

"I guess it's for our safety," Hernandez said with a shrug as hundreds more behind him yawned and chatted in a long line.

In the suburbs, officials admit they have the same fears as city school officials, even the same experiences confiscating guns.

But they are not ready for metal detectors.

Suburban school officials say they don't like the message that would send, they don't like the cost of $3,000 to $7,000 per machine plus staff and they don't trust detectors to provide foolproof prevention.

In the wake of the slaughter at Columbine High School in the upscale Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., many admit to second thoughts, though, if only to prevent smuggling of bombs in backpacks.

From Wheaton to Barrington, Elgin to Mundelein, educators are re-evaluating security in their buildings.

Most say they are willing to add a guard, tighten access, provide more counseling, or add cameras, but they remain reluctant to file students through metal detectors before the first morning bell.

Although the concerns from school to school vary, all of them cite the potential harm to their school image or environment.

Even at Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream, where a student was arrested last year for plotting to kill classmates, metal detectors have been discussed by administrators but never proposed to the school board.

"It is very likely some form of detector will eventually be in every school in America," said Peter Abruzzo, acting assistant superintendent for Glenbard High School District 87.

But for now, he said the district relies on a mix of video cameras, hall monitors and visitor passes.

"Metal detectors, in and of themselves, are not the panacea," he said, noting how a gunman blasted his way past metal detectors last July 28, killing two guards before gaining access to Capitol hallways and killing himself in Washington, D.C.

More often, though, educators in the suburbs cringe at the message metal detectors send to students.

In Elgin Area Unit District 46, a citizens advisory council is studying safety measures, but district spokeswoman Kris Miehlich said the cost of metal detectors and cameras is too high, because they also require staff to monitor TV screens and operate the detectors.

Miehlich said District 46 also wants to avoid creating a quasi-military state. She noted in many schools, there already is now just one entrance, opened by remote buzzers controlled by the staff.

"We don't want to knee-jerk this thing," said Andy Johnson, board vice president of Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, who is among many leaders re-evaluating safety, but who also is leery of the surge in calls for metal detectors since the Colorado shootings.

Robert Rozycki, associate superintendent for Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, similarly said, "We walk this fine line between having a very regimented, tightly controlled school environment and one that is friendlier and more open."

The District 211 board considered adding metal detectors, but decided against them. With 2,000 to 2,500 students entering the buildings at a time, it would require more staff and perhaps multiple detectors, Rozycki said. …