Richland One to soon begin installing metal detectors at its middle and high schools

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Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 8:26 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Richland School District One, the state’s ninth-largest school district, will soon be making metal detectors a permanent fixture at its middle and high schools.

After testing out the devices last spring through a pilot program, the school board approved the purchase of an initial 31 metal detectors at its meeting Tuesday night.

Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon said district leaders have been considering taking this step since a student was stabbed at A.C. Flora High School in February 2019.

Recent events locally and nationally accelerated that process.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that we’re having to have this conversation yet again, that we’re looking at a long-term use of this tool that we’ve had,” Witherspoon said. “We’ve been had searches and metal detectors at basketball games and football games for a number of years. And that we have to look at this entry across schools on a daily basis or even random basis does speak to the concern, but it also speaks to our desire to address those safety concerns.”

Witherspoon said the pilot program was helpful in determining how this works logistically on a long-term basis.

The goal is to have the first batch of metal detectors installed by mid-September, prioritizing the high schools first.

The placement of the first 31 metal detectors could change throughout the implementation process.

“There could indeed be some tweaks to that once we get started where we may be able to deploy some of the devices in some other places sooner,” Witherspoon said.

In the meantime, the district will continue using a random approach, with screenings at select middle and high schools.

This comes following several incidents in the last few years involving guns on Richland One campuses.

In May, a student at St. Andrews Middle School was arrested for taking a handgun to school.

The devices that the district will be installing are newer than the ones used during the pilot, and the sensitivity of the scanners can be adjusted. Witherspoon said this may cut down on wait times, which has been a point of emphasis for some parents.

“With the sensitivity with some of the newer devices that are out here, it may not require emptying pockets and taking everything out of your bag and so forth,” he said. “And that’s what creates the faster movement through.”

The district plans to place the devices at each entrance, including bus rider and drop off entrances.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Richland One board member Beatrice King said while she is not opposed to metal detectors, she is concerned that the district is making this investment without providing a “full picture” of the safety and security puzzle.

“To think that we can metal detector ourselves out for security reasons, I disagree fundamentally with that approach,” she said.

She also said she had concerns about the timeline and how the plan has been presented.

“If we say safety is number one and yet the administration has not brought to the board the full picture of how we look, what are we looking at changing, direction, vision, philosophy, communication with the community, nothing has been provided other than just a super, super bare bones thing that really gave us nothing,” she said.

Witherspoon said those concerns have been addressed, and the district has deployed a comprehensive approach to safety for a number of years.

“We were one of the early adopters of social-emotional learning practices,” he said. “Safety is not just the physical pieces, weapons detectors, it’s that social-emotional piece. Do our students know and feel that there’s a caring adult that they can go to if there are issues and concerns?”

Witherspoon said he hears the worries of some parents who say this is a step too far and not practical, but that he believes it is an important piece of the safety puzzle in today’s climate.

“We understand parents concerned with that, but we’ve also gotten feedback that said, ‘Hey, why did you wait so long?’” he said. “But this is a tool, and we want to bring to bear all of those things that can as much as we can ensure that safety as we move forward.”

The cost for the initial phase is around $1.2 million, according to Witherspoon, which does include some additional funding for security personnel that will help man the metal detectors.

While the goal is to install these at middle and high schools for now, Witherspoon said the district may consider implementing some of these devices at elementary schools in the future.

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