It’s natural to think of worst case scenarios when such a scenario is right before your eyes. So it was Monday when a Butler High School student was shot and killed by another student during a dispute in a school hallway. The death appeared to be the first fatal shooting inside a CMS school, but it revived a debate in the CMS school community about the use of metal detectors to protect our children.
That’s an understandable consideration — and not just because of Monday’s tragic death. CMS has a gun problem. The district has accounted for 20 percent of the guns reported on school grounds in North Carolina despite having just 10 percent of the state’s total enrollment, the Observer’s Ann Doss Helms reported. That likely contributed to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney recommending last year that CMS start “wanding” everyone who enters any school.
CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox resisted that measure, in part because of legitimate logistical concerns that include having thousands of students wanded each morning at each high school, as well as students and others who move between buildings on all CMS campuses throughout each day. (CMS has, in the past, randomly used metal detectors at schools, although it’s unclear if and how much that happens now.)
There are other reasons to be wary of the regular use of metal detectors on campus. Several studies have shown that metal detectors at schools have a negative impact on students’ perception of safety and increase their sense of disorder at the school. Research shows such measures also can have a negative impact on student performance, especially at already struggling schools. Plus, money for metal detectors might have to come from other school resources.
Also, there is this reality: Wanding students might improve the chances of keeping guns from being brought into CMS schools, but it won’t stop the student in a parking lot with a gun and a dispute to settle. It won’t stop someone with mental illness who might have a weapon outside a school entrance. It won’t stop the worst case scenario.
This is among the most difficult decisions Wilcox and the CMS Board of Education must consider, because it comes with the weight of students’ lives, a burden Wilcox clearly showed as he stood outside Butler on Monday morning. The superintendent said he and the district will review safety plans and procedures, and the district is already embarking on a $9 million safety initiative that includes giving all faculty “panic alert cards” that would let them notify administrators and police about urgently dangerous situations. It should be noted that the school system also has been attentive to bullying issues that can lead to violence and appeared to be linked to Monday’s shooting.
“Perhaps we need to do some things, get a little more aggressive,” Wilcox said.
That’s a natural response to a tragedy, and it’s a calculation many of us similarly make in other parts of our lives. How much are we willing to sacrifice to protect ourselves, and how much will that shield us from the worst that can happen? CMS should continue to look for ways to improve safety, but we believe the cost of metal detectors each day at each school is not worth the incomplete protection they would provide.