- The Chicago Public Schools board recently voted to spend $2.4 million to replace outdated metal detectors with new versions that cost roughly $3,350 each after debating whether the machines benefit schools or harm school climate, Chalkbeat reports.
- Jadine Chou, chief of safety and security for the district, asked for approval of the funds while noting the difficulty of finding the right balance between school safety and school climate. She told board members that as leaders' thinking continues to evolve on the issue, they might take another direction.
- Schools in the district must go through their local school councils to decide if they want to add metal detectors or if they want to have the ones already on campus removed. The school district is hosting a series of meetings throughout the city to discuss issues related to policing efforts in schools.
The increased focus on school safety, combined with recent concerns about school climate, has many school leaders pondering how to balance the two. The use of metal detectors at schools has raised concerns in recent years, and surveillance cameras have also come under scrutiny because of concerns over privacy.
Additionally, policing efforts have raised concerns about equitable treatment, because research shows students of color and those with disabilities are sometimes treated more harshly than their peers.
Most school leaders recognize that creating a safe environment also involves addressing students' emotional and mental health needs. School security officers need training in social-emotional skills, experts say, to be effective working with students. Providing more mental health services is another direction states and districts are taking, as well as increasing efforts to prevent bullying.
Metal detectors are just part of the discussion. The Illinois state legislature debated a bill last year that would have required all schools in the state to have metal detectors. However, educators opposed the bill over concerns about cost and effectiveness.
Ben Schwarm, deputy director of the Illinois Association of School Boards and a past member of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, said that metal detectors were last on the list of actions recommended by that group for protecting schools.
School safety is just one aspect of the creation of a positive school climate, and some districts are trying to strike a balance by reorganizing departments within the central office. Last year, for example, Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Verletta White created a new Division of School Climate and Safety to try to address these issues.
“Creating the new Division of School Climate and Safety will provide holistic leadership for an issue that we know is top of mind for our parents, staff, and community,” White said in a district press release. “It will bring together our Department of School Safety and our Office of School Climate to provide better coordination and consistent services regarding the physical safety of students and their social-emotional well-being.”