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Handheld Metal Detectors Present Legal Challenges For Indiana Schools

Bedford Middle School now has a full-time resource officer. So do three other North Lawrence County Schools (Steve Burns, WFIU/WTIU News).

Hundreds of schools across Indiana are waiting on handheld metal detectors to arrive.

It’s part of the state’s plan to increase safety following school shootings across the country this year, including one in Noblesville.

But, the new resources provide some legal challenges for districts.

Districts Still Determining How To Use Wands

As parents drop their kids off at Bedford Middle School for the first day of classes this week, some say they have peace of mind.

This year the district hired four, full-time resource officers for its schools, and one is stationed here.

“It makes it a lot more safer and better,” says Lacy Breazeale, who has several children in North Lawrence County Schools.

“Times have changed and sometimes we have to take those precautions, even though it may feel like it’s a little difficult.”
-Gary Conner, North Lawrence Community Schools Superintendent

It’s one of several changes the district is making to double down on security in the wake of recent school shootings.

Superintendent Gary Conner also requested 20 free handheld metal detectors from the state, which are scheduled to arrive later this month.

“There was a time in our community when you have unlocked doors and keep your doors open day and night,” Conner says. “Times have changed and sometimes we have to take those precautions even though it may feel like it’s a little difficult.”

While Conner says the district is still ironing out the details, administrators will likely only use the metal detectors on students when they suspect they’re carrying something that could be harmful.

“I have asked legal council to go ahead and develop a policy, protocol for us,” he says. “And then working with school board and informing school board and staff in our community in general.”

It’s a challenging situation for schools. They’re now having to expand their roles in ensuring student safety.

 

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation will also use metal detectors as part of new security measures at its schools. In a video posted to Facebook, the superintendent says the district ordered 46 from the state and still has to develop a policy for their use. The district does not plan to use the wands on all students on a daily basis.

In addition to the metal detectors, the district is investing $1.2 million through 2021 for counselors and mental health professionals. That will result in a mental health professional in each building.

The district is also increasing the number of resource officers in its schools.

But some districts still aren’t sure if they want metal detectors in their schools.

The Monroe County Community School Corporation hosted a conversation about the metal detectors last week. Superintendent Judity DeMuth says they haven’t requested any yet, but the district could get up to 144.

“At this point in time the board wanted to hear from our community, so we’ll be looking at this information to make that determination,” she says.

Some parents voiced concerns that the metal detectors could alter the learning environment, which is something that also worries DeMuth.

“When you talk about using a scanner, it’s the same feeling as you were to get when going into an airport or you go into a county building,” she says. “That sets a whole different atmosphere and again when we’re dealing with children, we’ve got to be very careful if we make that decision.”

Metal Detectors Have Faced Challenges In Other States

People have challenged the use of similar metal detectors in schools in other states.

That led the Indiana School Boards Association to provide districts with guidance as they look to craft their policies.

The organization recommends schools use the wands if there’s reasonable suspicion that a student is carrying a weapon, or for what’s called an administrative search. Those have to be random and can’t single out specific groups.

“We gave them the option to say they can scan them when they come into the school and it might be every third child or every third student, or they could choose to do a random scan during the day,” says Julie Slavens, staff attorney for ISBA.

Slavens says there’s a long list of procedures that must be in place if a school goes that route.

For example, the metal detector can’t touch a student’s body, and the person conducting the search must be the same sex as the student.

In the court cases filed in other states, only police officers administered the metal detector scans. Slavens says that’s not possible for all Indiana districts, so the ISBA is recommending administrators be trained on how to use them.

School districts still have some time to sort through the complicated legal issues before metal detectors arrive.

And while some worry about the potential, unintended consequences, districts that requested them say, sadly, they’re necessary.

“If there is a reasonable concern that someone has something on their person that could truly do harm to someone else, I want to take action to make sure we remove that threat,” Conner says.

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