The Philadelphia school board is slated to decide a tough topic Thursday night: Should every high school in the city require students to pass through metal detectors?
All 49 Philadelphia district high schools have the scanning equipment, but three don’t use it. A proposed board policy would shift that, effectively requiring Science Leadership Academy, Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, and the Workshop School to use their metal detectors.
Amir Curry, a senior at SLA Beeber, thinks that metal detectors criminalize students and have no place in his West Philadelphia magnet school.
“SLA Beeber students do not view this policy as a safeguard of their health and safety," said Curry, a member of the Philadelphia Student Union, a youth group against the policy change. “To SLA Beeber students, this policy … is a clear violation of their power, voice and autonomy.”
Walking through metal detectors, SLA senior Zoey Tweh said, “sets the tone for students. It sets up a relationship between the school and the students that says, ‘We don’t trust you.’ ”
Tweh, an officer with UrbEd, a student-led advocacy group, said each school should be able to set its own metal-detector policy.
The issue is timely because the original SLA is moving from rented space in Center City into an unused portion of Benjamin Franklin High Schoolon North Broad Street. The idea of having Ben Franklin students use scanners and SLA students skip them didn’t sit well with officials, said school board chair Joyce Wilkerson.
“We need to standardize things,” Wilkerson said.
She said the controversy around mandated security checkpoints made clear the need for a broader conversation about security, but in the meantime, the board should err on the side of uniformity.
The policy’s passage is not assured. At a public discussion in February, board members Mallory Fix Lopez and Angela McIver said they would not support mandated metal detectors.
Julia Frank and Alfredo Praticò, the board’s two student members, do not get a vote, but they urged a “No” vote. On a visit to The Workshop School, Frank, a senior at Northeast High, and Praticò, a senior at Masterman, said the lack of a security checkpoint led to a strong sense of trust and community.
“We can never allow students to feel untrusted or suspect in a place where they should feel comforted and supported,” Praticò said at the February school board meeting.
Julia Danzy, another board member, said safety issues are paramount but so are issues of liability.
“Should any child be harmed, even if it was someone who spoke out against this tonight, there will be a lawsuit brought against the district,” Danzy said last month.
For students in some schools, metal detectors bring a measure of comfort. Kevin Davis, a senior at Strawberry Mansion High, which sits in a neighborhood with the highest rates of homicides and shootings in the city, said that metal detectors are "a good thing.”
“You never know who could be bringing what into the building that we’re supposed to be safe in,” said Davis. “It’s not meant to criminalize us; it’s meant to keep us out of harm’s way.”
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said he wants to be careful to separate the instrument from behaviors that may make students feel unsafe, and that students who walk through metal detectors at Center City magnet schools should be treated the same way as those walking through neighborhood high schools in West Philadelphia.
“I’m sure if any of our students go to Disney World, no one feels criminalized by walking through a metal detector,” said Hite, who supports the policy. “If in fact there are issues about how young people are being treated, then we have to address those behaviors.”