School board was right to reject metal detectors

The Monroe County Community School Corp. board in Bloomington, Indiana, deserves a ton of credit for its brave and correct decision to reject an offer of free metal detectors from the state.

In the midst of a panic over school shootings, including the shooting of a teacher and student last spring at a Noblesville middle school, nearly every school district in Indiana jumped at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s offer of free metal detectors. The MCCSC board said no, and for good reasons.

“I think that just the fact that we have these, whether or not we ever use them, diminishes the good feelings our parents and our kids have in our schools,” board member Jeannine Butler said.

That’s exactly right. Parents and students want schools to be safe, but they also want them to be warm, welcoming places, not “hardened” targets that resemble prisons or detention centers. What message does it send if a school acts as if everyone who enters the door is a potential killer?

But just because the school board’s decision was correct doesn’t mean it was easy. A minority of members – the vote was 4-3 – argued that, if there were a local school shooting, the district will be blamed for not having done everything possible to prevent it.

That thinking may explain why, according to Holcomb, at least 94 percent of Indiana school districts said yes to metal detectors. Right away, those districts were scrambling to figure out how to use them. Will they subject all students to random searches? Target students who look or act suspicious?

As Butler, the Monroe County board member said, schools that use metal detectors on some students but not others will be accused of profiling. In a state where African-American students are suspended at four times the rate of white students, profiling seems likely to happen.

And do metal detectors even work to deter school shootings? There’s some evidence that, used judiciously, they may. But they can’t guarantee that shootings won’t happen.

Holcomb announced in July that the state would provide free metal detectors to schools at a rate of one per every 250 students. It was an unsurprising and no doubt well-meaning response to public concern about safety following high-profile school shootings last spring.

And Indiana was far from alone. According to The 74, some 26 states were pouring $950 million into school safety initiatives of various kinds. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced $25 million in school-safety funding. Incredibly, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has contemplated letting schools use federal school-improvement grants to buy weapons — as if the answer to gun violence is more guns.

Indiana’s governor did do more than hand out metal detectors. He named a school safety task force, which held meetings and issued recommendations. Some, like expanding mental health services, make a lot of sense. Others, like requiring active-shooter drills in all schools, seem questionable.

I searched the task force’s 134-page report to see what it said about how easy it is in this country for children to get their hands to deadly weapons – the issue that students in Parkland, Florida, raised after 14 classmates and three staff members were killed in February. What I found was disappointing.

“The working group acknowledges this report does little to address gun safety concerns,” the report says. “The group determined that the issues and solutions related to firearm purchases, use, ownership, and training are outside the scope of this working group’s mission.”


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