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Pilot for metal detectors in schools approved by Alexandria School Board

Advanced metal detectors will be used for a pilot program in two Alexandria City Public Schools locations as part of a pilot program (via ACPS)

Two Alexandria City Public Schools will be getting metal detectors before the end of this school year.

On Thursday night, the School Board voted 7-0 (Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Member Christopher Harris were not present) to approve the process for “advanced weapons abatement technology” to go into operation at two unnamed ACPS schools in May.

The Board approved staff to proceed with a public engagement process that will end in March, followed by the installation of the equipment in April.

The new system is “less invasive” than traditional metal detectors and handheld wand devices, Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, told the Board. Students, staff and visitors would walk through at a normal pace and artificial intelligence will be used to detect weapons.

“It is important to note that the advanced weapons technology tends to use engineering and artificial intelligence to detect most weapon threats,” Hart said. “This is a departure from traditional metal detectors. Additionally, some of the current weapon abatement systems have the ability to indicate via photograph the specific area in which a concealed item has been detected.”

Hart said that the locations of the schools for the pilot have not been released, however, the school system will focus on the middle schools and Alexandria City High School.

“The level of incidents with weapons, as reported previously, tend to happen at our secondary levels, so at our middle schools and our high school,” Hart said. “Naturally, between those schools, that would be one place where we would want to do a pilot.”

Emily Milton, an ACHS senior and student representative on the Board, said that the new detection system will not sit well with students.

“I feel like it’s a bad look for our school if we put them in there,” Milton said. “I feel more uncomfortable, honestly, having those in my school.”

Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said that the installation of metal detectors is a “proactive preventative measure.”

“I take this very seriously,” Kay-Wyatt said. “When I hear that the students are going to feel that this is uncomfortable, think about a call that would be more uncomfortable — that we would have to call and say there’s an injury or tragedy to somebody.”

There were 28 incidents involving students with weapons in ACPS last school year — 13 incidents in the first semester, and 15 in the second semester, according to a safety report. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray. In all, 46 students were arrested and 68 injured, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response.

ACPS began this year with a number of new security upgrades, including the installation of door alarms, camera upgrades, a new student ID process and a new visitor and emergency management system.

Board Member Willie Bailey said that the school system wants to avoid a situation like last month’s shooting of a teacher by a six-year-old student in Newport News.

“God forbid, we do not want that to happen here in Alexandria City in our school system,” Bailey said. “Whatever we can do to prevent that, I am for it 110%.”

Hart said that the decision to install metal detectors wasn’t easy.

“We value stakeholder and community feedback, and staff feedback and student feedback, which is why we’re not implementing it right away,” Hart said. “But I also ask for students to keep in sight the other side of that coin and to understand the decisions that, as adults, sometimes we have to make to make sure that you are safe. It’s not fun. It is not easy. But it is something that we are charged in our positions to do.”

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