A school board member’s public skepticism about the ability of metal detectors to prevent school shootings has angered some Santa Fe residents.
Facebook users have spread posts by Patrick Kelly, a member of the Santa Fe Independent School District’s board of trustees since 2016, as evidence board members weren’t listening to parents when making security decisions after the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.
On May 18, a gunman opened fire on students and adults at the campus, killing 10 people and wounding more than a dozen others. A student at the high school has been charged with capital murder in connection with the shooting.
Since the shooting, two companies have offered to donate and install metal detectors at Santa Fe High School.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick last week announced the most recent offer from a company to provide metal detectors.
In a July 2 Facebook post, Kelly called the offers of metal detectors “absurd and grotesque.”
“Metal detectors will waste precious money school districts do not have and install a false sense of security,” he wrote.
Kelly is trying to be a responsible steward of the district, he told The Daily News on Monday.
He said he feared the companies were offering metal detectors to Santa Fe as a way to market future sales to other districts.
“People don’t do things for free,” Kelly said. “That’s not to say they’re not being decent, but I think there’s an ulterior motive there.”
Neither the school board nor its recently formed school safety committee has received estimates on how much it might cost the district to install, maintain and constantly monitor metal detectors, officials said.
District officials have said they will wait until the safety committee makes a recommendation on metal detectors before making any decision about installing the devices.
Kelly said he feared metal detectors would be a significant cost to the district and possibly take away from other security options.
“I’m not totally against metal detectors at all, I think it’s a line of defense” he said. “But I think the public is so hung up about it, we’re failing to talk about other things that will make us safe.”
The school board passed a $39 million budget on June 25. That budget included more funding for the district’s police department, but did not include some security measures parents have wanted.
Kelly’s public comments, and the district’s delay in making a decision, have frustrated some parents in Santa Fe.
Some believe the district should have had the devices installed before students were allowed back in the high school building five days after the shooting.
“I don’t know why those things weren’t installed right then and there,” Rhonda Hart said. Hart’s daughter, Kimberly Vaughn, was one of the 10 people killed in the May 18 shooting.
Metal detectors would be a “band-aid” or “security blanket” for students who are still scared to re-enter the high school building, Hart said. Cost shouldn’t be an issue, Hart said.
“If they can spend $800,000, or whatever it was, to replace the grass turf in the football field and put up a scoreboard, I think they can fund metal detectors,” Hart said.
The school district in 2015 agreed to pay up to $881,232 to replace the high school’s football field with artificial turf. The district approved a new LED scoreboard in March 2017.
The Santa Fe school board is scheduled to meet in a special session today. The district will consider five different items involving school security — including installing locking mechanisms on classroom doors, remodeling the high school’s front entrance and purchasing a new dual alarm system.
The district has not said how much those improvements would cost.
The board is not scheduled to discuss metal detectors, according to the posted agenda.
Soon after the meeting, a group of parents is scheduled to meet at Santa Fe City Hall. The group, called Santa Fe Parents United For Change, is set to talk about “effective security measures for the immediate protection of our students, policy changes and administrative changes” at the school district, according to a flier advertising the event.
The safety committee, which is not open to the general public, is scheduled to meet Thursday. At that meeting, the committee might finalize its first recommendations to make to the school board for its first round of safety measures.