Schools not using hand-held metal detectors


Local school corporations are finding little use for the hand-held metal detectors the Indiana Governor’s Office offered in the 2018-19 school year.

Each of the local school corporations participated in the program that allowed schools to receive one metal detector for every 250 students. Greater Jasper Schools requested 12 metal detectors, Southwest Dubois requested six, Southeast Dubois requested five, Northeast Dubois requested three and North Spencer requested two. All of the metal detectors sit largely unused.

“The legal process to use those is pretty narrow,” North Spencer Superintendent Dan Scherry said.

He explained that to use the hand-held metal detectors, schools either have to search everyone upon entry to the school or have reasonable suspicion to search a single person. In the event of a reasonable suspicion search, the person performing the search would need to be trained to do that. For that reason, Scherry said, if a reasonable suspicion search was needed, school administrators would rely on their school resource officers to perform it.

As far as searching everyone upon entry, Scherry said that’s not something his school corporation wants to do.

“We don’t have the capacity to do that, nor do we have an interest in doing that,” he said.

Other school corporations are taking the same approach as North Spencer. Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang said in an email that his school district gave one to the school resource officer and the others are kept in the schools in case they’re needed.

Greater Jasper Superintendent Tracy Lorey said her schools would also only use the detectors in situations that called for a reasonable suspicion search and that one of the corporation’s two resource officers would be involved.

Greg Werner, assistant principal at Southridge High School and a member of Southwest Dubois’ school safety team, said his district keeps their hand-held metal detectors in a central location in case they’re needed, but they “are not going around regularly wanding students.”

Similar to North Spencer, Werner said the district would use the wands if they had reasonable suspicion and needed to search a bag or student. He noted that the school corporation has not had a need to use the wands, but that there are situations where they would be helpful. If, for example, a student returned from suspension or expulsion and part of the agreement between the school and the student’s parents stated that the student would be searched each day, the wands could be used for that. Again, Werner stressed, the school has not had any such situations.

Southeast Dubois has also not had cause to use their metal detectors, Superintendent Jamie Pund said. Like the other corporations, Southeast Dubois would only use the wands in probable cause searches and would involve local law enforcement in those situations, Pund said.

Although the schools don’t see a need to regularly use the hand-held metal detectors, the state was providing another layer of security at no cost to the schools.

“It was something that our state wanted to give our schools,” Pund said. “Looking at it from the perspective of Southeast Dubois, we don’t see a need for them, but if some time down the road we did, we do have them.”

Scherry had a similar reason for participating in the program.

“It was an opportunity to add another layer of security,” he said.

Local schools’ policies surrounding the hand-held metal detectors are similar to those of schools across Indiana, though some school districts have used their hand-held metal detectors, some daily. An August news story from Channel 13 in Indianapolis discussed how five central Indiana school districts have used their wands. Some of those schools’ policies include using the wands on tardy students and at extracurricular events, and all of them have policies in place for use of the wands in cases of probable cause searches. Some of the central Indiana schools have administers and school staff trained to use the wands; others rely solely on law enforcement officers stationed at the schools.

The program that awarded the hand-held metal detectors to schools across the state was part of a larger push from the Governor’s Office to increase school security. The initiatives also included a series of school safety grants from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security that schools could use to fund school resource officers, safety equipment and threat assessments. Local school corporations also participated in the grant program.

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