“It’ll be just like going to a concert or the airport,” our principal announces over the intercom.
Every morning, in what’s become the routine safety update, she compares our government-mandated school hours to recreational activities. After the pledge, we listen to our principal discuss the metal detectors and ID badges that will become part of regular school life a week from now. We will be walking through metal detectors and getting our bags searched every morning, and ID badges are now a requirement for every student. Tension and worry has settled in, the feeling only deepening as time goes on.
Over the last year, our country has been made painfully aware of the violence that people are capable of, especially in schools. Since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013, there have been 63 school shootings, resulting in 67 deaths. This year, the violence reached a turning point at Parkland, Florida, and the world watched as students marched for their lives in Washington. This was the first time that legislators and school officials were forced to listen to student opinion on the bloodshed that has gripped our country. At the time, we were all jubilant. Now, we’re witnessing the fallout. Schools all over the country are tightening security in response to mounting concern. Though safer schools were the initial goal, we’ve found ourselves with a new problem.
Instead of investing time and money to fix deeper root issues, like gun control and inadequate mental health services, legislators are more willing to put Bandaids on bullet holes and calling it protecting the youth.
Be that as it may, students are still fighting to be heard.
“I’m here for an education, not to worry about whether or not I’ll walk out of here alive,” said Libby, a junior. Her main issue with the new policies is that no one asked for student opinion. She says, “if you want to make us feel safe, you have to know what will make us feel safe, and we’re the only ones that can answer that.”
Most students, however, feel that the metal detectors will forestall gun violence. Zach, a sophomore, agrees.
“The metal detectors definitely could be an effective deterrent from threats with firearms and weapons.”
Despite this opinion, research about the efficacy of metal detectors is discouraging. According to a Journal of School Health study, “there is insufficient data in the literature to determine whether the presence of metal detectors in schools reduces the risk of violent behavior among students, and some research suggests that the presence of metal detectors may detrimentally impact student perceptions of safety.”
So why has there been a surge of schools adding metal detectors to their daily routines? Zach has a hunch.
“I think it’s most likely parents who were pushing for the metal detectors.”
This begs the question of why parents are the most influential voices in school safety, when students are chock full of opinions and helpful recommendations that could vastly improve perceptions of school safety. Schools have also instated other misguided school safety policies, such as clear backpacks for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and other schools in the area.
Most every student is in agreement: in order to solve the issue of school safety, we must look at the root cause of gun violence, which is improper gun control laws and poor mental health.
Despite the Parkland students’ tireless advocacy for tighter gun safety, we’ve still seen no meaningful changes in American firearm legislation when it’s desperately needed. The US has had 57 times as many school shootings as the other major industrialized nations combined, according to CNN. Assaults in the US are three times more likely to involve guns than other developed countries, according to Vox. No matter how many statistics we rattle off and no matter how many heart-wrenching narratives we share, there has still been no significant change.
There’s more hope in changing our mental health climate. Our district approved a tax increase to staff our schools with more mental health professionals. There’s still concern about how effective the mental health professionals will be; all of us have counselors, but how many of us go to them with our issues? They’re seen as vehicles to fix schedules and nothing more. Very few students have a real connection to their counselor. Mr. Knapp, a math teacher, brought up that with recent budget cuts in Kentucky education, increased class sizes will make it much harder for teachers to connect with students and catch any worrying behavior. Without facilitating meaningful relationships between adults and students, we’re only doing ourselves a disservice.
Even with these reservations, student response to metal detectors is still overwhelmingly positive. To me, this is surprising, until I pull back and look at the context of where I live. As stated above, here in America, gun violence occurs at an unprecedented rate. Last year, through walkouts and protests, students told the world that they don’t feel safe in schools anymore because of the near-outbreak of shootings. In a more peaceful world, the intrusion of metal detectors on an educational space would never have been stood for.
Now, with a generation that cuts their teeth on constant news of bloodshed, we’ll do anything to feel more safe. We’ve willingly given up our right to a positive, non-invasive school climate for the merest illusion of safety. It doesn’t matter that metal detectors have been proven to be ineffective; the placebo effect is more powerful than any security plan.
With heavy hearts, my peers and I continue to walk between those metal detectors, continue to jump with every announcement, continue to panic over each gun threat — in short, continue to live as every normal American teenager does in this age.