Metal detector effectiveness discussed at Taft LSC meeting
by BRIAN NADIG
A discussion on the effectiveness of metal detectors highlighted the March 13 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council.
During the public participation section of the meeting, three Taft parents who are police officers called for the school to re-install metal detectors at the school’s entrance and to use them more often, even if on a random basis. The detectors are no longer visible but are still being stored at the school and are used sporadically, including at the homecoming dance last fall.
LSC student representative Lenin Plazas said that students and teachers have expressed security concerns and that while the detectors are not a cure-all, they would add "an extra layer" of protection. He said that recent mass shootings have students on edge whenever there is an unusual sound inside the school. He said that some students were concerned when a firecracker was set off at the school, thinking it was a gunshot.
Taft principal Mark Grishaber said that studies have concluded that metal detectors are not an effective deterrent to violence and can create a false sense of security. He said that 97.5 percent of high schools in the country do not use detectors and that they are primarily in schools located in neighborhoods with a history of gun violence.
Grishaber said that the school lacks the resources to use metal detectors effectively and efficiently and that the numerous doors and windows at the school create challenges. He said that it took 90 minutes to search 1,500 students at the homecoming dance and that 3 1/2 hours are needed to search all 3,400 students as they enter the building in the morning.
The school’s security focus is to create a culture in which students feel comfortable in reporting threats and to provide social and other support services to students, Grishaber said.
"Make sure at school everyone has someone to talk to and trust," said Taft climate and culture director Kat Hindmand. "We need to reach out to our kids who feel disconnected or alienated."
One of the police officers said that while it is difficult to predict the actions of a distraught individual, the presence of detectors could cause an armed person think twice about entering the school.
Another officer said that school safety increasingly relies on the willingness of students to report suspicious behavior which they see on Facebook or on other social media outlets.
Hindmand said that when a student posted a picture of himself with a BB gun, the school administration received multiple reports of the posting and Chicago police were at the student’s home 30 minutes later.
At the request of students, Taft is planning to conduct more lockdown drills, as only one a year is required, and police have conducted active shooter drills at the school, according to Hindmand. Some LSC members asked the officers to help conduct a security assessment of the school.
LSC chairwoman Kathy Fern said that a multi-faceted approach to security works best, and she invited the officers to participate on the council’s Safety ad Security Committee. "We need to keep this conversation going," she said.
Grishaber said after the meeting that he is looking at using metal detectors more frequently.
Meanwhile, Taft students participated in the recent "National School Walkout" to help raise awareness of gun violence in the country. Some of the signs held by students at the rally said, "Enough is enough" and "Protect kids, not guns."
Taft administrators said that the school system had instructed schools to permit students to go outside for the planned 17-minute rallies and then to return to class. Each minute of the rally was meant to honor one of the 17 victims killed last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
It also was reported that 15 staff members participated in the recent "Climb the Towers" fundraiser at Presidential Towers, 555 W. Madison St., for the American Lung Association and that many Taft students volunteered for the event.
Also, Grishaber said that he recently participated in a meeting hosted by Alderman John Arena (45th) in which representatives from area schools brainstormed ideas on how to generate more funding for education.
It also was announced that one of Taft’s goals is to increase the number of its graduates who attend a 4-year college.
Grishaber said that though Taft does a good job getting its international baccalaureate and Advancement Via Individual Determination students into a university but stronger efforts need to be made throughout the school year. He said that it is important to get students into a 4-school college instead of a junior college because only about 10 percent of those attending a junior college end up getting a bachelor’s degree.
The next LSC meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 10.