For the first time, Fayette County Public Schools started using stationary or fixed metal detectors to check students for weapons this week.
The school district will begin phasing in the use of the equipment at Lexington's Frederick Douglass High School between now and the end of the school year. The equipment was put in place on Monday so students could familiarize themselves with the set-up as they enter the building.
Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk also called for Lexington's five other high schools to get fixed metal detectors. District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the cost for the metal detectors at Douglass was $44,350.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray in his fiscal year 2019 budget set aside $100,000 for school safety, earmarking the fixed metal detectors, Caulk said. Caulk said he would look to other sources of additional money.
Caulk on Monday afternoon released the recommendations of the Fayette County Public Schools District Safety Advisory Council. After the deaths of students and staff in school shootings in Marshall County, Ky., and Parkland, Fla., just weeks apart in early 2018, and the subsequent threats of violence and discovery of weapons in district schools, Caulk convened the council to examine best practices in school safety and develop specific recommendations.
The council included 28 students, parents, school and district employees, law enforcement representatives, city officials and community members.
The council identified four areas for immediate action critical to ensure the safety of children:
- Mental health professionals and law enforcement officers must now be considered essential members in today’s schools.
- Facility enhancements including secure vestibules, metal detectors, safe zones, and alarms on exterior doors must be made to ensure schools are safe places to learn and work.
- Family Resource and Youth Service Centers and state grants are necessary to provide critical fundamental programs and resources required to make a long-term, lasting impact on the safety and well-being of students and communities.
- Adequate and sustained funding to provide appropriate support and placement options for juvenile offenders is required.
The committee offered some solutions that require money and others that cost nothing, Caulk said. Some pointed to gun control, including banning bump stocks, raising the legal age to purchase a gun to 21 and requiring a 3-day waitng period or a completed background check prior to the purchase of a gun.
Caulk said he would lobby the appropriate people to help implement all of them.
Penny Christian, first vice president of the 16th District PTA, and a member of the advisory council, was complimentary of the bulk of the recommendations. Christian, however, told the Herald-Leader, that metal detectors gives schools "a different feel" that concerns her.
"I just don't want everyone to think that everything will be fine with those. We still have to be hyper-vigilant. If you focus on the metal detectors, and the wands and the law enforcement, it negates the responsibility of the community, the responsibility of the parents," Christian said.
In introducing the metal detectors at Douglass on Monday, the district's high school director, Randy Peffer, said, "the safety and security of our kids is at the top of our list."
The decision to start the installation was made in March after a student at Douglass accidentally shot himself in the hand while in class. He was not seriously injured. The announcement marked a reversal of an earlier school district decision that having all secondary students move through stationary metal detectors was too timely and costly. Some parents had been calling for the fixed metal detectors in Fayette secondary schools.
Douglass is a pilot school because it is the district's newest school and the most conducive school to use metal detectors, said Peffer.
The metal detectors will be at six different doors with six or seven staff members or security guards at each entrance. To help search students, the school district has contracted with a company called Greene's Investigations LLC for $12,500. Peffer called them "security ambassadors.”
No weapons were found Monday, said Peffer.
Drew Rodriguez, a 15-year-old sophomore, said he went through the metal detectors in a dry run Monday.
"It evokes a sense of safety, like at the airport," said Rodriguez. "Obviously, there's no clear-cut solution, but you do the best you can and this is a big step forward."
Sophomore Grace Phelps , 16, said she thought Monday's dry run, in which student backpacks and belongings were also checked, was very efficient and only took about two minutes. Peffer said he did not think that the metal detector checks would lead to any students being marked tardy.
"My parents were O.K. with it. They know it's a way to protect students," Grace said.
Peffer said school district officials have been conferring with staff at Lexington's Rupp Arena on procedures since it screens thousands of fans before games and concerts. The metal detectors are taken down after students enter in the morning, and people who enter later in the day will enter the front door only and be checked with a metal detector wand.
While district officials were preparing to show reporters the metal detectors at Douglass, a sizable fight erupted at Tates Creek High School in south Lexington Monday morning, drawing a large number of city police to the campus. Two students were charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to the Fayette County school officials. A third student was charged with only disorderly conduct.
Christian, the PTA official, said in an interview that the fight had its origins "in the neighborhood" and extended into the high school.