Installing metal detectors in Santa Fe schools won’t be easy. And it will be expensive. But the benefits far outweigh the costs and school district officials should be commended for approving the measure last week.
The detectors won’t stop all mass shootings. But they could go a long way in stopping students from entering schools with guns or other weapons.
Installing metal detectors is a concrete action with measurable benefit for a school district badly needing a sense of security after a student on May 18 shot and killed 10 people and wounded more than a dozen others at Santa Fe High School.
Other school districts have found weapons screening useful, according to an April 2018 Campus Safety report on the pros and cons of metal detectors.
In 2016-17, more than 2,120 weapons — firearms, stun guns and knives — were confiscated at New York City schools, with about half confiscated using metal detectors, according to the Campus Safety report.
Some students might find ways to get around a metal detector, but the mere presence of the devices is a deterrent.
The Campus Safety report went on to say the machines might be enough to prevent violence if an attacker thinks he’s likely to get caught as he enters the building.
What has slowed the installation of metal detectors at schools and colleges across the nation is the high cost.
Several companies have offered to donate labor and some devices to Santa Fe, but that would defray only a little of the substantial costs.
The estimated cost for the district to operate detectors at the high school was about $265,000 for electrical work, facility modifications and parts. Installing the detectors at the junior high school would also cost about $265,000.
It would cost about $615,000 for each of two elementary schools because those buildings would require extensive modification, district officials said.
Personnel to operate the detectors could cost from about $180,000 to about $420,000, not counting benefits, officials said.
This all adds up to a lot of money, but school districts have spent far more to build and operate football stadiums.
Many state and federal officials have vowed to help, and they should be pressed to follow through. Texas schools need more than words. They need money.
Although metal detectors are a start, most experts agree layered security is the only effective method. Santa Fe appears to be taking that approach by enforcing dress codes, adding security officers and providing mental health services. Enforcing existing codes is key. Police have said the Santa Fe shooter wore a trench coat. Trench coats can conceal weapons and should be red flags to educators and administrators.
Last month, the school board passed a $39 million budget that, along with the general business of educating children, includes money for five new police officers and five new security guards. The district also approved money for weapons, vehicles and other equipment for those new officers.
The district also is making many physical changes to its schools.
All of these measures are expensive. But Santa Fe and other districts can’t afford not to invest in safety. Doing nothing and hoping for the best isn’t an option. Students and staff, suffering psychological wounds most people will never know, deserve to feel secure when they return to school.
• Laura Elder