Greenville County Schools is not actively considering installing metal detectors at its schools, Superintendent W. Burke Royster said.
Some parents had asked the school board to install metal detectors as a way to increase school safety in the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead and 14 injured.
“I don’t think there’s a price too big to protect our children,” said Tessa Hubbard, who has two children in Greenville schools. “Metal detectors maybe won’t be foolproof, but they will be a deterrent.”
The primary reasons the district is not considering metal detectors is effectiveness and limitations, said Royster and Wade Shealy, coordinator of the district’s school safety and emergency preparedness office.
“[There’s] a whole lot more to it than sticking a metal detector in the doorway,” Shealy said. “It’s actually more of a process than a piece of machinery.”
In order to be effective in a school, every inch of the building behind the metal detectors would have to be secured every second of every day. All exterior doors and windows would have to be manned or equipped with alarms, because they present an opportunity to get a weapon in, defeating the whole purpose of the metal detectors, Shealy said.
Large high schools have dozens of doors, making it logistically challenging to ensure a weapon doesn’t get in and financially infeasible to install a metal detector at each entrance. The last high school Royster served at had 95 doors.
Nationwide, 12.3 percent of students 12-18 years old reported their schools had metal detectors, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Most of those are in large metro school districts that have a documented and statistical issue with concealed weapons, Shealy said.
“Statistically, we don’t have that issue,” he said. “It would require putting a metal detector at every door in every school for a problem that is statistically practically zero.”
Shealy said that metal detectors would have done no good in preventing the Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland, San Bernardino, Pulse, and Las Vegas shootings. “Metal detectors provide no protection against an outside assailant attacking the school with an assault rifle or other weapon,” Royster said.
“If you have an armed assailant determined to enter a gun-free zone, they will not be deterred or delayed by a metal detector,” Shealy said.
Royster said the process for receiving students would be slow because metal detectors without X-ray machines require hand searches. The district is also concerned that students massed at the entrance of a building would provide a convenient target for those wishing to do harm, Royster said.
A study in the Journal of School Health found that there is insufficient data to determine whether metal detectors reduce the risk of violence in schools, and some research suggests that their presence may detrimentally impact student perception of safety.
It’s not the first time parents have asked for metal detectors in Greenville schools. A petition circulated in 2016 after a student brought a loaded gun into Southside High School and accidentally shot himself. The 16-year-old and three other students were arrested in connection with the incident.
A review of the district’s security and emergency response plans then found that installation of metal detectors was neither warranted nor practical and would likely cause more problems than it would solve. A retired FBI agent led that review.
A bill was introduced in the South Carolina legislature requiring metal detectors at schools. But the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs office found that it would cost $14.4 million to put three detectors in each of the state’s 1,200 schools and would cost $98.3 million each year if they required dedicated staffing.
“In a school setting, this would be nearly impractical,” Shealy said.