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School districts weigh pros, cons of metal detectors

DC and Dorchester County in Maryland are among few local districts to embrace widespread use of weapons' detection systems in schools.

FREDERICK, Md. — In Frederick County, Maryland, the District builds a new school almost every year to keep up with its growing population.  And always with an eye on student safety.

But the focus is on the latest in safe school design like open entryways and a layered security approach, including card-only access throughout the building. Classrooms are set back from the entrance to give additional space between the students and a threat at the entrance.

New schools also have classroom doors that lock from the inside, unlike the classrooms at Robb Elementary. Classrooms in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 young children and two teachers were murdered May 24 after the shooter gained entry to their classroom.

But in the wake of Uvalde, there’s one more safety option some Frederick County parents are asking for.

“That's probably our biggest request is what about metal detectors?” said Dr. Paul Lebo, Chief Operating Officer for Frederick County Public Schools.

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“It is a very time consuming and costly thing to do,” said Scott Blundell, Security & Emergency Management Supervisor for FCPS. “And in no way, we want to certainly make sure to say this, that we are saying at FCPS that students and staff are not worth spending the money. But to guarantee that those metal detectors are working appropriately and accurately all the time is a full-time job for a staff member.”

Blundell and Lebo said in addition to operational concerns, like getting 1,000-1,200 students in every high school through metal detectors in time to get to class, they say there’s also no guarantee metal detectors would stop a shooting rampage.

But on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, some school officials have a different take on the metal detector debate, where last year Dorchester County Public Schools spent a $1 million putting the technology in all of its secondary schools.

North Dorchester High School Principal Dave Stofa said the added layer of security is not going too far.

“I don't think so at all,” Stofa said. “I think once this system has been put in place, and we've put it in practice this past school year, that I think our students felt safer and felt more comfortable.”

“I know, our teachers, and our students all feel more comfortable knowing that we have this piece of equipment on our front door,” he said.

Credit: WUSA9
Weapons Detection System at North Dorchester County High School

Dorchester County does not call the technology a metal detector, they call it a weapons detector because things like keys and cell phone won’t set it off.

But if an image scanning icon threat box pops up on the weapons detector monitor. Students go through a secondary search on their bag.

In fact, the weapons detector flagged a butterfly knife with a 4-inch blade in a student’s back pack the first week North Dorchester High started using it. 

Credit: WUSA9
Butterfly knife found in a students backpack at North Dorchester County High School

Stofa says operational concerns about getting students through the weapons detector and into school swiftly, have proven unfounded.

“It's not going to hit on a belt buckle, it not going to hit on a wristband, or a watch or something like that,” Stofa said. “This is for somebody to detect somebody who was bringing something in here to kill and hurt a lot of people.”

“In the future, this will be part of employee recruitment,” added Dorchester County Facility Supervisor and Safety and Security Coordinator Chris Hague. “In the future, there may be parents that want to send their send their children to the safest school possible. And they may be looking at what technology school districts deploy to keep students safe. Either way, we want to be as proactive as possible, so that we can identify challenges and address them, so that nobody ever hears about them.”

WUSA9 could not identify any other school districts in Maryland or Northern Virginia that have embraced the widespread use of weapons detection systems. DC Public Schools are the only local school system that told WUSA9 it uses metal detectors and X-ray machines in its middle and high schools.

Loudoun and Fairfax County school districts told us they only use handheld metal detectors during individual or locker searches based on a report or a tip a student may be armed. It’s the same policy Frederick County Maryland Schools follows, with no plans to invest in entryway metal or weapons detection systems anytime soon.

Blundell wouldn’t say definitively whether increased use of metal detectors would make FCPS schools safer.

“I don't think anybody can answer that question.”

RELATED: Alexandria City Public Schools unveil additional safety protocols for students, staff

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