Superintendent: Fixed metal detectors to expand to other Fayette middle, high schools

Fixed metal detectors will expand into more Fayette County middle and high schools, Superintendent Manny Caulk said at a Monday board planning meeting.

“We are moving ahead as a district to begin the installation of stationary metal detectors,” Caulk said in a Sunday letter to families.

On Monday, he asked the Fayette County Board of Education to consider the necessary policy and procedural changes to clear the way for the use of fixed metal detectors in schools. No vote was taken at a planning meeting, members said, but one could be at the regular meeting later in the month.

“On Tuesday, we have our first meeting with a firm that specializes in the installation of metal detectors,” Caulk said. He said costs had not been determined yet.

On Friday, the district had announced that Frederick Douglass High School would be the first school in the district with fixed metal detectors after a student there accidentally shot himself in the hand while in class.

The announcement Sunday marks a reversal of an earlier school district decision that having all secondary students move through stationary metal detectors was too timely and costly. Parents have been calling for the fixed metal detectors in Fayette secondary schools.

Caulk told the Herald-Leader he did not know how many of the district’s 31 secondary schools and programs would get the fixed metal detectors.

“It could be all 31, I’m not taking anything off the table. But we have to have a starting point,” Caulk said

“Our community is hurting. And since our schools are a reflection of the community we serve, our schools are hurting too. In the span of six hours last month, three teenagers died of gunshot wounds in Lexington. And in the span of nine days this month, students from three of our high schools — Frederick Douglass, Henry Clay and Paul Laurence Dunbar — have been arrested for serious crimes involving guns and the safety of our campuses,” Caulk said. “This is unacceptable and as a parent and father, I share your frustration. “

Caulk said installation of fixed metal detectors will start at Frederick Douglass because the facility, which already has a limited number of entrances with secured vestibules, poses the fewest challenges for installation. “That will allow us to move more quickly, do our research on best practices for the use of metal detectors in high schools, and go through the process once before expanding to other schools”.

“From there, I anticipate moving on to other campuses,” Caulk said. “The unique nature of our 31 secondary school facilities means we will have to find creative solutions tailored to the challenges posed by each campus. Since four of our other five comprehensive high schools are slated for renovations soon, we may have to find short-term fixes that can be integrated into the building modifications that come as part of the larger construction projects”.

Caulk said in the meantime, the policy and procedure changes before the school board will also enable middle and high schools to immediately begin using the hand-held metal detector wands more frequently to conduct random searches of students and campus visitors. He said when students come to school, officials need to ensure “that they are not bringing contraband or items that will not aid in their learning.”

Caulk noted that Douglass is the only Fayette County Public School where a student has been injured by a gun while at school. At Douglass, a student in class accidentally shot himself in the hand Friday with a gun that was in his pocket. On March 1, a student brought a loaded gun into Henry Clay High School. A Paul Laurence Dunbar student was recently removed from school and charged by police after a tip that he was talking about shooting up the school. A rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition were found at his home.

Metal detectors are not fail-safe, Caulk said, but they can work in concert with other comprehensive strategies. Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Gray said Monday afternoon, “We support our schools. If school district officials and the Advisory Council decide that stationary metal detectors would benefit schools, Mayor Gray has said he would ask the City council to provide funds for some of the equipment.”

Gray has also offered extra help from Lexington police, and Fayette Sheriff Kathy Witt has offered help with school searches if stationary metal detectors were installed.

A citizen named Terri Collins said after the meeting she thought local companies would be willing to pay for or sponsor the metal detectors in exchange for publicity.

During the first two meetings of the new District Safety Advisory Council, experts said Fayette County needs more law enforcement officers and additional mental professionals in schools in addition to changes in the juvenile court system, and increased community supports for teens.

“There is nothing more important to me than ensuring the safety of our students, staff and campuses. As your superintendent, I take seriously our responsibility to care for your children while they are in our schools and send them safely home at the end of the day,” Caulk said, “I fully understand the sacred trust you place in us when you send your children to school. Students cannot be successful when they don’t feel safe. And I will not tolerate anything that interferes with our children’s ability to learn at high levels and fulfill their unlimited potential.”

Caulk would like to see a law enforcement officer at every school.

Caulk asked families to stay involved by joining the conversation at their child’s school about specific things that can be done to enhance safety there. He asked those with districtwide suggestions to share those with the advisory council by sending them to no later than March 20.

Caulk reiterated a message that he has repeatedly been sending to Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican:

“We also need your help in reaching out to our lawmakers in Frankfort and asking them to fully fund education and invest in school safety improvements and mental health services. While our General Assembly is considering bills that would shift pension costs to school districts and significantly cut education funding, Republican Governors in other states are taking a leadership role in the area of school safety,” Caulk said..

He said it was encouraging to see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a bipartisan group of 21 other senators at the federal level supporting a bill funding school security improvements, early intervention and prevention programs aimed at stopping school violence. He asked families “to join educators in Fayette County to demand that those we have elected to represent us put students first. Working together we will ensure that our schools are the safest places for students in our community.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

The next meeting of the District Advisory Council will be at 6 p.m. March 15, 2018 at Bryan Station High School and the topic will be mental health.