Should schools have metal detectors? Wake says the security option ‘is on the table.’

Pressure is intensifying for the Wake County school system to install metal detectors following several incidents of students bringing guns to campus and threats being made against schools.

Wake hasn’t joined other districts in adding metal detectors and weapons detectors to schools following the surge of school violence nationally. But on Tuesday, Russ Smith, Wake’s senior director of security, said metal detectors are an option for North Carolina’s largest school district.

“Specifically talking about metal detectors, I’m not prepared to be able to say we’re going to do this today or we’re looking at that today,” Smith told the board. “But I think everything is on the table. That’s fair to say that we’re always looking for ways to improve security, but there’s also different opinions about what items are going to improve security.”

In contrast, Johnston County is spending $9.6 million on school safety upgrades that includes installing weapons detection systems in every school.

Every Johnston County school’s main entrance will get a detector that scans people who walk through it with ultra-low-frequency electromagnetic fields to look for concealed weapons.

Johnston is using a state grant to help pay for the security upgrades. Wake opted to use its state grant money to instead install kiosks at the entrances of all schools that will produce visitor badges and electronically check visitors against known sexual predator and offender databases.

Smith said Wake plans to have the new visitor management system in place by the start of the 2023-24 school year.

Safe gun storage

The school board’s security discussion comes after a challenging week in which at least six schools were placed under lockdowns due to threats. Students were dismissed early last week from two schools, including at Rolesville High School after a student brought a loaded gun to the campus.

Guns have been fired this school year inside a restroom at Cary High School and in a classroom at Fuquay-Varina Middle School. No one was injured.

“These lockdowns are very traumatic and we have to take each one very seriously,” said school board vice chair Chris Heagarty. “The day that we get jaded, the day that we think ‘Oh it’s another fake threat’ could be catastrophic. As we’ve been looking at this recent explosion of incidents, we have to find some solution, and I don’t know what that is.”

School leaders have called on the community’s help to address the problems of school violence and students getting ahold of guns.

On Tuesday, Melanie Mottershead, a volunteer for EveryTown For Gun Safety, gave a presentation at the school board meeting about its Be Smart safe gun storage program. She said gun owners should keep their guns locked, unloaded and stored separately from the ammunition.

“Locking up guns will help to reduce the risk of firearm suicide, unintentional firearm injury and also help to prevent firearm theft,” Mottershead said.

Mottershead and school board chair Lindsay Mahaffey urged school PTAs to host presentations on the Be Safe program.

Also on Tuesday, the school board added to its legislative agenda a call for state lawmakers to pass a state statute requiring safe storage of firearms. The board is also asking the General Assembly to provide increased school safety funding.

“We need to be more diligent as a community and as a whole,” said school board member Cheryl Caulfield. “If you’re a gun owner, please lock it up. Please be safe. No one ever looks back and regrets taking that extra step.”