‘A very bad idea’ or deterrent? Long lines for student backpack searches at Lexington school

A parent upset with Lexington’s Lafayette High School’s phasing-in of backpack searches and metal detectors this week described long lines of waiting students and scrutiny of kids carrying inhalers and epi-pens which provide allergy treatment.

“Metal detectors, deployed in the way they now are, are a very bad idea,” parent Roel Coenders said in an email to Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk and other school officials.

Lafayette is the school district’s fifth main high school to implement metal detectors and bag searches since last year when Caulk introduced a $13.5 million package of school security reforms. The improvements, which an advisory council helped draft following high school shootings in Western Kentucky and Florida, were the result of a 2018 tax rate increase.

“Lafayette High School is our fifth school to implement metal detectors, so this is nothing new for our community,” district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Friday in response to Coenders’ e-mail. “Whenever you implement a new system like this, it takes time for students and staff to adjust to the new routines. That is why we intentionally phase in the implementation process over a period of time so that we can make improvements and refinements along the way until we determine the system that works best for each location.”

“Adjustments were made today and will continue to be made over the next several days. We appreciate the patience and support we have received from the vast majority of our students and families,” Deffendall said.

She said the District Safety Advisory Council which represented a broad cross-section of the community “developed a balanced and comprehensive approach to safety that hardens buildings while softening our schools.”

Walk-through metal detectors and “security ambassadors” are already in place at Douglass, Dunbar, Tates Creek and Bryan Station high schools. Henry Clay High School and Fayette middle schools will be next to install walk-through metal detectors, school officials have said.

Lafayette officials said in an email message to parents on Wednesday that the school was launching the “next transition towards full implementation of our metal detector protocol.”

The message to parents said that all student backpacks would be searched by Safety Ambassadors prior to entering the Lafayette building and that ”efficiency will improve as students and staff learn the process.”

Lafayette High School parent Roel Coenders said this photo shows the long lines of students waiting outside to enter the school building on Thursday, September 12, 2019 to have their backpacks searched as school officials phase in the installation of walk-through metal detectors.

Coenders in his email asked Caulk for an explanation “for the way this is being implemented.”

“Requiring all of the students to go through a metal detector creates long lines of kids waiting to go through detectors and to get searched — creating perfect sitting-duck targets for would-be school shooters,” Coenders said.

Coenders attached a photo to his email showing crowds of students lining up outside Lafayette’s building as they waited to go inside for searches.

In an interview, Coenders said by sending his letter and another in December 2018, he was hoping the district would not “deploy metal detectors in a way that would create long lines of kids which would be an easy target.”

School officials were asking students to arrive on campus early given that doors open at 7:30 a.m. and to empty their pockets and place all items in a backpack before entering the security check-point. All individual bags were being opened and searched, Wednesday’s message to parents said.

Because of the newly implemented searches at Fayette high schools, “we found a loaded gun at one of our schools this year,” Deffendall said. “This is a deterrent and.. this is part of a comprehensive safety plan. We have ten different things that we are doing so that in total we are providing the safest place possible for our students and staff.”

Coenders was under the impression that students were asked to turn over inhalers and epi-pens to staff, but Deffendall said Friday that no inhalers or epi-pens were taken away.

One epi-pen and two inhalers were examined and returned to the students, she said.

Wednesday’s message from the Lafayette administration reminded parents that students are not permitted to self-administer any medication without a note from a healthcare provider on file. Students in possession of prescriptions without the ‘self-administer form’ are in violation of school policy and the prescriptions are confiscated and returned to a parent or guardian, the message said.

Meanwhile, Coenders said he hoped school officials would change their minds about procedures that result in long lines for students.

“I’m hoping,” he said, “they will find some other ways to prevent a school shooting.”