As a parent, I’ve become afraid to turn on the news.
Maybe you feel the same.
It feels like the time between school shootings, and the reports of extreme bullying are getting smaller and smaller.
Some argue for banning assault weapons or making them harder to get.
But each new event plastered across the TV or social media brings another kind of debate back to light. From Sandy Hook to Uvalde, it’s a hot-button issue.
Should metal detectors be in schools?
To be honest, I’m conflicted.
Being a big supporter of metal detectors, that might surprise you.
How about we revisit the pros and cons of metal detectors in schools? And maybe we can figure it out together.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Having Metal Detectors in Schools?
The pros and cons of having metal detectors in schools are complicated.
The pros range from clear confiscation of dangerous weapons to providing a supportive sense of safety.
The cons are just as influential and argue for the overall cost of implementing and maintaining metal detectors.
Furthermore, that same sense of safety in the right eye becomes a burden and an invisible weight on the students’ chest.
We’ll dive into each side of the argument and what the facts tell us. But first, here’s a short graphic of the strengths of each view.
Metal Detectors in Schools Pros and Cons
Do you have strong opinions on metal detectors in schools already?
I wouldn’t blame you. It comes with a lot of emotion, depending on your experiences.
My high school never had metal detectors. We had security cameras and officers walking the halls at times.
But the year after I graduated, they installed walk-through metal detectors at the front doors.
My brother was still a senior then.
It caught me off guard and made me feel like things were changing. And not necessarily for the better.
Now I have kids. What will their experiences be?
But I’m willing to have an open mind. I mean, metal detectors have a long history of helping people.
What about you?
First up, we’ll examine the pros of metal detectors in schools.
Pros of Metal Detectors in Schools
Deterrence can present itself in many ways. To the average assailant, the repercussions will often cause them to hesitate and reconsider their intentions.
Metal detectors in schools are a great example of this.
Airports, much like schools, count on metal detectors as a preemptive preventative action or risk reduction tool.
Professional criminologist and professor at Rutgers University, Ronald Clarke, confirms that situational crime prevention focuses on reducing the opportunities for crime while also increasing an offender’s perceived risk of apprehension.
So, the sight of a metal detector decreases the odds of school violence by making the would-be attacker question their chance of success.
The most prominent pro to having metal detectors in schools is their ability to detect dangerous weapons upon or before entering the doors.
Metal detectors work by emitting an electromagnetic frequency that detects the presence of metal in that field. An alarm is triggered to alert the security operators when the metal is detected.
Primarily, school metal detectors are looking for firearms, knives, box cutters, or any life-threatening weapon.
There are two kinds of metal detectors used at schools. These are walk-through metal detectors and handheld wands.
Security wands are sometimes used in the woodworking industry. But for schools, they’re great portable options for checking individuals outside the building, in private areas, or scan buses for threats.
Detecting Additional Contraband
School safety isn’t just about protecting our kids from gun violence. It’s also about protecting them from some of the bad decisions they can make.
This brings us to the third benefit of having metal detectors in schools; being able to detect other forms of contraband.
For instance, it’s not uncommon for kids to try and sneak in something that could seriously damage their future if caught.
I’m sure you can think of a few examples, but here are a few I’ve unfortunately heard of.
- Vapes or other metal smoking devices.
- Flammable equipment containers for butane or standard BIC lighters.
- Alcoholic beverages such as beer cans or metal flasks.
- Cellphones when explicitly prohibited.
Induces a Sense of Safety
While this aspect of metal detectors in school is somewhat controversial, there are two clear sides.
And one of the sides feels that metal detectors make them feel safer in a learning environment.
Whether a student or staff member, implementing metal detectors gives off a sense that something is being done; that extra measures are being taken to keep them safe.
Particularly when metal detectors are used in conjunction with other security measures as part of a preventative action plan.
Cons of Metal Detectors in Schools
The most significant anti-metal detector in schools argument is the cost. At least, it is for the school board.
Some cheap options are available when buying a metal detector, depending on what you need.
A single handheld wand might only cost you $20. Or a more proven model can get as expensive as $160. But the school district isn’t buying just one metal detector.
As for walk-through metal detectors, the standard unit used, the cost can easily reach several thousand dollars for just one.
If the school in question does decide to purchase these security measures, you have to honestly ask what other programs might be cut to pay for them.
If you’ve ever owned a car, HVAC unit, or toilet, you know that heavily used equipment generally needs some maintenance.
Metal detectors are no different.
So not only do schools have to come up with the money to buy metal detectors, but they also have to retain the funds to service them.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
And did I mention training or hiring operators for the metal detectors?
This negative impact of metal detectors in schools ties into the previous one of cost.
A school can’t simply have the teachers turn on the metal detector in the morning, go back to class, and expect a safe environment.
Someone must learn how to calibrate the metal detector, operate it during the hours needed, and react when an alarm is triggered.
Needless to say, this should call for more than one person, ideally.
And in my opinion, asking a staff member to do this is unfair and unrealistic.
The school should hire or work with outside security personnel to run the operation.
Again, this taps back into the school budget.
Lax training and policies to save money are dangerous. And it defeats the purpose of having metal detectors in schools.
If they’re going to do it, do it right.
Induces Negative Emotions
I touched on this a moment ago. Here is the other side of the argument.
There is a firm negative opinion of metal detectors in schools. And I can’t say it’s unwarranted.
Unfortunately, schools with metal detectors at the front door tend to make some feel like their learning environment is a prison.
This is especially true for students who are part of a predominantly minority population.
The feeling that they are being targeted by the policies meant to protect them is discouraging.
I wish I could say this wasn’t true, but the facts are the facts.
An in-depth study by the secret service in 2019 on targeted school violence confirmed that 63% of the attackers examined were white.
However, a separate US Department of Education survey found that metal detectors were used more frequently in schools where the students favored Black and Hispanic ethnicities.
In fact, these metal detectors were placed in 18 times the number of schools than those with a majority population of white students.
With these numbers, you have to ask if enough is being done for school safety.
Are metal detectors being used correctly and in the right situations?
The last con of metal detectors in schools is acknowledging that they aren’t a perfect solution.
For several reasons, adding them to your school will not prevent awful tragedies on their own.
First, there are several access points to a school. If school officials plan to count on an attacker entering through the front door, they haven’t thought this out.
Second, not every attacker will use an automatic weapon.
Metal detectors are ineffective against fiberglass-reinforced polymer knives, just one example of a non-metallic weapon.
Third, metal detectors aren’t always accurate.
They rely on the manual calibration of their sensitivity. This allows human error to become a factor.
Every zipper and button will sound the alarm if the sensitivity is too high.
Also, weapons and other contraband can go unnoticed if the security official isn’t using the proper technique with a handheld wand.
Ultimately, it’s safe to say that school metal detectors aren’t an all-encompassing solution.
Do Metal Detectors Help Schools?
Ok, I’ve laid out the pros and cons of having metal detectors in schools, but there’s more to know before deciding where you stand.
Personally, researching the facts above has me leaning toward not having metal detectors in school.
It’s early though. Let’s see what else we can learn and ask a few questions that might lead us to some answers.
Why is Having Security in Schools Important?
No one should live in fear, especially inside a school building.
Having security in school is important to the world’s future as we know it.
Children should not just feel safe inside a school but welcomed and inspired to learn.
And teachers have more than enough to worry about than having to prep for disasters as if they’re soldiers.
Allowing students and staff to perform to the best of their ability is why security is essential within a school.
Do Metal Detectors Prevent School Shootings?
I’d love to tell you that using metal detectors in schools will prevent school shootings, but there’s no such evidence to support that.
I want to think that common sense would tell you it doesn’t hurt to use metal detectors and should only help.
But no direct correlation has been found.
How Do Students Feel About Metal Detectors?
Going back to the sense of safety we discussed earlier, and students have differing opinions on metal detectors.
A recent interview of school officials and families was done in Hampton, VA, because of the changing security measures in their schools.
Jayden Ellis and his mom are happy that their district has decided to install an advanced weapons detection system in his school.
Jayden feels safer, and his mom fully supports the extra security.
But not everyone will share these feelings.
You might get a more straightforward answer if you asked enough students, teachers, and parents.
In fact, pick one of the options on the poll below to see what others think.
Metal Detectors in Schools Statistics
How about we dig into the research and look at some more compelling facts about metal detectors in schools?
It’s such a hot-button issue; there’s no shortage of statistics.
How Many US Schools Use Metal Detectors?
Data is constantly being updated, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many US schools are using metal detectors at a specific time.
However, the most recent data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics identifies metal detector use as current as the 2019-2020 school year.
The total number of US schools using metal detectors is 31,079 out of 83,100 schools.
This includes daily and random metal detector checks, with some room for error.
What Percentage of Schools Have Metal Detectors?
If analyzing the same data above, schools from elementary to 12th grade with metal detectors make up 37.4 percent of all schools in the US.
But like I said, data is constantly updated, and you can splice it any way you want.
For example, other sources might choose to only tally schools where a walk-through metal detector is present at entrance points. Or they may only examine a specific population.
Either of these options can frame the debate in the desired fashion. So keep that in mind when looking through statistics.
According to a 2020 case study researching schools in the US for students between 12 to 18-year-old over 19 years, 11.9% of schools use metal detectors.
That percentage hasn’t moved much since the early 2000s.
Again, which report do you trust? How does it frame the argument?
We must ask these questions to seek the truth and develop our own opinions, whether we’re for or against metal detectors in schools.
Are Metal Detectors in Schools Effective?
Are you still with me?
We’ve poured over a lot of data and discussed the pros and cons of metal detectors in schools.
I don’t know about you, but the wheels are turning, and I’m starting to feel clearer about the issue.
But how about we ask some overriding questions? Not just about metal detectors but about the state of security in schools.
What Type of Security is Most Needed for Schools?
It would be easy for me to say metal detectors are the type of security most needed for schools. But it’s not that simple.
Do I see the benefits of metal detectors in schools?
But I also understand the opposing points of view.
Currently, most schools are using some form of risk prevention they believe limit the possibility of violence.
Some measures are clearly favored over others. For instance, security cameras are used exponentially more than metal detectors.
What do I think is needed?
I’m not a security professional or school admin. But I am a parent.
I believe the type of security we need is commingled, where all resources are used together as a well-rounded risk assessment and prevention plan.
How Can Schools Improve Safety and Security?
What is a well-rounded risk prevention plan?
Well, I guess it depends on who you’re asking.
Unfortunately, school safety and security aren’t universal across the United States. It’s left up to the districts and the states they reside in to enact policies.
Based on what we know about past attacks, it’s safe to say that everyone in the school holds some responsibility for improving the current conditions, from the principal down to the students.
I’m not suggesting we put that enormous pressure on our kids. But effective change with or without metal detectors may rely on positive interaction from the students affected.
In 2020, the Department of Justice published 10 recommendations for improving school safety.
Two main guiding principles resonated with me and deserve more attention.
- The goal of a holistic approach that reflects physical safety, mental health, and personal connections to the school community should be strived for.
- There needs to be a focus on attack prevention via intervention rather than solely victim mitigation.
Should Metal Detectors Be in Schools?
Here we are.
Trying to answer the often debated question, should metal detectors be in schools?
While I recognize the cons of metal detectors in schools, I believe their presence helps more than hurts.
Do I like it? No, not really.
I prefer my kids go to school in a world where gun violence isn’t a genuine concern.
But that’s not our reality.
After weighing the pros and cons and researching the statistics, I can’t tell you that metal detectors alone will make school security more effective.
However, it’s hard to argue that using metal detectors as part of an action plan and not the focus holds some value.
The trick is knowing how, when, and where to use them for the most impact.
Are Metal Detectors in Schools Legal?
You and I have pushed through the ethical and societal attributes to uncover the pros and cons of metal detectors in schools.
But we’d be missing a key element if we didn’t talk about the legality of it.
Frankly, school metal detectors are a bit of a gray area in the eyes of the law.
Our federal government doesn’t have an official stance on the matter. So it’s left up to each state to decide their lawful use.
If there’s no clear policy on metal detectors in schools from the local government, then the decision rests with each school district.
Do Metal Detectors Violate the 4th Amendment?
The 4th Amendment protects every US citizen from unreasonable search and seizure by government actors.
Or, in this case, public school officials.
So, does making students subject to metal detectors violate this constitutional right?
For now, using metal detectors in schools does not violate the 4th Amendment.
This could change over time, but state courts have sided with the schools.
The central debate is built on the reasonable search to ensure students’ safety and provide a learning environment free of violence.
So far, local and federal courts have agreed with this purposeful search argument.
I hope I’ve given you a reason to weigh the pros and cons without bias.
Personally, I don’t believe either side of the discussion is wrong. But there should be some middle ground, shouldn’t there?
The pros of metal detectors in schools are undeniable. Especially in the times we live where it feels like mass shootings are at an all-time high.
Although, there are statistics that support the notion of safety searches without metal detectors having more success.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll tell you what I think.
After careful research, I understand the use and need for metal detectors in schools, even if I don’t like them.
Do I wish there was a better way? I do.
But I don’t see one. Not yet…