Students at South Education Center, the Richfield school where a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed in February, will once again be screened by metal detectors starting this fall.
Intermediate School District 287 Superintendent Sandy Lewandowski announced the change in a note to families outlining new safety initiatives proposed by a team of district officials that surveyed staff, students and parents.
Other proposals include crisis training for staff members, mental health and behavioral support training, regular communication about school safety and a commitment that district employees "advocate for systemic and social change."
Lewandowski said district staff must also prioritize maintaining a positive learning environment for 800 students.
"A comprehensive approach to school safety means that we must double down on the foundational trauma-responsive practices we know keep our schools safe, like trusting relationships with students, mental health supports, strong check-in and screening processes and rigorous and engaging curriculum," Lewandowski wrote.
The alternative district is composed of four schools that enroll students with acute instructional or behavioral needs from 11 metro-area districts. More than 39% of the district's students are white and 33% are Black. Nearly 12% of the district's students are Latino.
The district will install metal detectors at each of its schools over the summer and audit their effect on school climate and safety "multiple times over the course of two years," Lewandowski said. Each student must pass through a detector in order to enter the building.
The district did away with metal detectors and school resource officers in 2016, citing concerns about criminalizing student behavior and opting instead to rely on safety coaches to build relationships with students and address problems.
District officials boosted security measures at South Education Center in the wake of the February shooting, when a dispute between students led to a shooting in the parking lot that killed 15-year-old Jahmari Rice. Richfield police temporarily stationed an officer to patrol the neighborhood around the school and staffers screened students with a metal detector wand upon entry.
The reintroduction of metal detectors was the most controversial element of the safety advisory team's recommendations, according to comments in response to the district's survey. Several of the committee's members took issue with the idea and district officials even suggested the devices largely serve a symbolic purpose — and Lewandowski acknowledged that in her note to families.
"There is little evidence to support that metal detectors prevent violence in school settings," she wrote. "In fact, research suggests metal detectors can contribute to poor learning environments, a false sense of security, and inequity."
A district survey of more than 130 students showed the vast majority of kids feel safe at school. Of the roughly 1 in 5 who responded that they either disagree or strongly disagree with the statement "I feel safe at school," 12% cited weapons as a factor.
A survey of more than 440 district employees showed the majority of adults who work in the alternative schools also feel safe at work.
Still, three in four district employees surveyed did not feel confident in their building's safety measures and more than 80% said they believe metal detectors are "a necessary additional layer of protection for school safety."
Other staff members said they fear installing metal detectors will demoralize the district's students of color.
"We are knowingly reinstituting a practice that is demonstrated to dehumanize people of color — and especially Black people — with no real significant evidence to support why it will be better or safer," one person wrote.
Another wrote that several Black staffers disagree with that assessment. District documents did not include staff members' names.
The majority of the 90 parents who responded to the survey, most of whom were white, said they feel safe sending their child to school. About 80% said they believe it's necessary for the district to install metal detectors and most disagreed that they would disproportionately affect people of color.