Two students at Gardena High School in Los Angeles were wounded on Tuesday when a gun stored inside a classmate’s backpack went off during class. Both students are still alive and expected to recover, but obviously that doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the situation.
School districts vary widely in their approach to school safety. Most high schools in DC require students to pass through metal detectors when entering the building, but across the Maryland border in Prince George’s County (where I taught), students just walk into school.
Coincidentally, Dr. John Deasy, the current deputy superintendent and future superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, was the superintendent of Prince George’s County when I started there. He actually escorted me and a group of other TFA corps members to our interview fair at the school where I would end up teaching, and I asked him on the way about whether or not there were metal detectors in PGCPS. His response: “no. We don’t want the kids to feel like they’re in prison.”
At the time, I felt a little nervous about this. I was on day three of my TFA experience and had heard only scary things about where I’d be teaching. As it turns out, I felt very secure in my school. I think the number of weapons-related incidents that have occurred around the country despite the presence of metal detectors is evidence that bad things can happen anywhere, and I agree with Dr. Deasy: kids shouldn’t feel like they’re in prison. I went into DCPS schools pretty frequently last year and felt anxious each time I had to put my stuff through a metal detector. It just creates a vibe of fear and paranoia.
The Huffington Post reports that “since 1993, Los Angeles Unified School District has required some campuses to randomly check students with hand-held metal-detectors every day at different times”. From what I can gather, there is no standard security procedure in place in LAUSD, yet gang activity there is among the most notorious in the country.
So what can/should we do to make schools safer? I’m open to suggestions and would love to see some comments about this. I don’t think my school needed metal detectors, but that doesn’t mean that the same threat isn’t there or that no schools need metal detectors. I’ll be interested to see if Dr. Deasy applies the same philosophy he had in PGCPS as he assumes control of LAUSD.