Lawrence Township district puts new metal detectors at entrances to secondary schools

Students walk in a line past an adult security guard and metal detector with tan brick wall in the background.
Students at Lawrence North High School showcase the metal detector system outside one of the school's entrances for media on Feb. 2, 2024. Students hold their laptops up to avoid setting the detector off. (Amelia Pak-Harvey / Chalkbeat)

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Thousands of Lawrence Township students will pass through metal detectors on their way into school every day as part of the district’s latest effort to boost school security.

The district’s six middle and high schools began using the new metal detection systems last week. They are set up at the entrance of each school to detect weapons such as guns and large knives.

The district has not confiscated any weapons on school grounds so far this school year, officials say. Still, officials hope the latest technology will act as a deterrent to school shootings.

“We’re not going to be one of them,” said Jim Parish, the district’s director of security. “So this is why we put them in place.”

The district is the second one in Marion County to announce a boost in security this school year. In December, Perry Township showcased its new weapons detection systems at its two high schools, a measure it called one of several “proactive steps” to keep students safe.

Separately, last November, taxpayers approved new revenue to improve safety in Fort Wayne schools through new security measures and school resource officers, but also by hiring new staff to help students with mental health issues.

The roughly $350,000 initiative builds on the district’s weapon detection procedures that began in 2016, when the district began conducting random searches daily and metal detection at large events. Lawrence Township also received 56 metal detection wands from the state in 2018, about 70% of which are still in use, according to the district.

The effort allows the district to search many more students in far less time. Officials say students and staff at each entrance are getting used to the procedure, which requires students to pull out or lift their laptops above their heads to avoid setting off the detector.

“With our old detectors, we were randomly [searching] kids — so we were getting 300, 350,” said Parish. “When we kicked this off, we did 2,400 kids in 30 minutes. The next day, we cut 10 minutes off of that, did another 2,400 in 20 minutes.”

At Lawrence North High School, students say the new detectors make them feel much safer

“I think it’s a more comprehensive check of what people are bringing into school,” said Taylor Smith, a junior. “And I think it’ll catch much more of what they were trying to catch.”

Staff and security officers stand at each entry to search bags if the detection system goes off. The metal detector wands will be used alongside the new equipment for secondary screening if needed, according to the district.

Last school year in Lawrence Township schools, one person was arrested for possession of a firearm on school property and one person was arrested for attempted intimidation with a deadly weapon, according to state discipline and arrest records.

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Lawrence Township schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

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