ANGOLA — Steuben County provides a somewhat apt example of the two extremes of the use of hand-held metal detector in local schools after a state program made them available at the start of the 2018-2019 school year following a July 2018 executive order by Gov. Eric Holcomb.
At the Metropolitan School District of Steuben County, the metal detectors are used as a deterrent to bringing banned devices onto school property. At Fremont Community Schools they weren’t accepted when the Office of the Governor offered them to schools at a ratio of one per every 250 students.
A check with other schools throughout the four-county area shows policies that lie somewhere between MSD and Fremont. Use of the wands has been minimal.
“Fremont Community Schools did not ask for any of the metal detectors. I had been at previous schools where they sat on the office unused. So many rules and regulations,” said Bill Stitt, superintendent at Fremont. “I did not want to waste the tax payers money for something to sit unused.”
At MSD, Superintendent Brent Wilson said the metal detectors have been a good deterrent, particularly in schools with older students.
“Has the program been worthwhile? I would say yes. The hand-held detectors are a good deterrent and its nice to know that they are available to use if there is ever a situation where we suspect a student has an item that they could use to harm themselves or others,” Wilson said.
There are wands in each school with a few additional at Angola Middle School and Angola High School. Wilson said the wands haven’t been used at any of the district’s four elementary schools because those younger students are typically compliant with principals and will empty pockets or backpacks upon request.
“The middle school administrators have not used the detectors yet to scan a student, but they have made the students aware that they have them and are willing to use them if necessary,” Wilson said. “The high school administrators have also not used the detectors to scan a student, but have demonstrated how they work by placing a metal object on a table and scanning over it. The students know that the administrators are willing to use the device if necessary and have turned over vaping pens in the past.”
West Noble also has employed a wand on a student or two, but it is rare, said Superintendent Galen Mast.
“Our (school resource officers) have access to the wands as needed. We have used the wand on one or two occasions, particularly when we have a concern around a female student who might potentially have something on their person that might endanger others. We felt this would be the best course of action in terms of a non-invasive search. But that has only occurred once or twice since obtaining the wands.”
To use the hand-held metal detectors, schools either have to search everyone upon entry to the school or have reasonable suspicion to search an individual. In the event of a reasonable suspicion search, the person performing the search would need to be trained, which means most schools rely on their school resource officers to conduct searches. The search also has to be conducted by a person of the same gender and the wands must not touch the person being searched.
The Indiana School Boards Association ended up providing school districts with guidance to write their policies regarding the metal detectors.
The organization recommends schools use the wands if there’s reasonable suspicion that a student is carrying a weapon, or for what’s called an administrative search. Those have to be random and can’t single out specific groups.
There’s a set of guidelines put out by the Indiana School Board Association that helps districts navigate the use of metal detectors. It includes the following, based on an Indianapolis education publication:
Written policies needed
Each district should have policies in place explaining how and when they will use a metal detector wand. This information should be included in the student handbook and given to parents annually.
Trained personnel must conduct searches
Only staff who have received training should be authorized to use a detector. This ensures the school district policies are being followed.
Reasonable suspicion is needed
If a staff member has reason to believe a student is in possession of a dangerous item, the student can be searched with a metal detector wand by trained staff.
Random searches allowed
The school district should have procedures in place to explain how random metal detector searches will occur. The same group of students should not constantly find themselves being searched.
Parents should be informed
Parents should know what policies your school has in place. Parents don’t want their children to feel like they are targets of unwarranted searches. Stay informed and ask questions if you feel your child is being singled out.
The MSD of Steuben County shared its metal detector use police, which reads:
“When the school administration has reasonable suspicion to believe that weapons are in the possession of an identified student, the administration is authorized to use a mobile metal detector to search the student. Any search of a student’s person as a result of the activation of the detector will be conducted in private and in accordance with the policy on personal searches. Only school personnel who have been trained in the usage of metal detectors, law enforcement officers assigned to the school corporation, or school resource officers shall operate the metal detectors under the direction of the administration.”
At Prairie Heights, there’s also a policy in place for the one metal detector on campus that has yet to be used.
“We have one and a board policy that allows us to use it, however, we have not implemented the use of it yet,” Superintendent Jeff Reed said.
At DeKalb Central United, Superintendent Steve Teders said they have taken a slow approach to use of the wands and like other safety measures at the district, they keep policy under wraps.
“We have really taken, as we do with a lot of measures, a slow and methodical approach,” Teders said.
The district is still evaluating use of metal detectors and whether a walk-through scanning device is warranted.
Teders said the wands came from the state with little advice and no extra batteries or chargers.
“We have not put them to use as of yet, until we feel comfortable and confident with them,” Teders said.
DeKalb Central is still seeking advice of legal counsel and is going to be consistent with its safety policies, and that is to keep them close to their vest in the interest of student safety.