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Dear District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon,
Assistant Superintendent and Principal Marcus Campbell
and Board President Pat Savage-Williams,
I am writing to you to provide a alternative parental perspective from “Evanston For Safe Schools,” a local coalition advocating for metal detectors at ETHS. When our family moved to Evanston just over five years ago, my husband and I were thrilled about the prospect of eventually sending our children to D202/ETHS. The possibility of our children having to start their day by walking through metal detectors, however, has given us serious pause.
As I understand it, a petition by a parent-led coalition, opportunistically named “Evanston For Safe Schools” (EFSS) is advocating for installing metal detectors at ETHS. This is in response to a school lockdown on Dec. 16 when weapons were found on campus during a routine search, and no weapons were discharged. The EFSS coalition is advocating for metal detectors as a safety measure to address “illegal” gun violence in addition to the expulsion of ETHS students found with weapons. In its advocacy, I do not see EFSS cite empirical evidence that metal detectors improve school safety. Moreover, this request appears reactionary to a singular incident and mere speculation about a larger gun problem at ETHS.
EFSS purports to advance installation of metal detectors on behalf of their children and all ETHS students. There is no companion coalition organized on behalf of the ETHS students (children!) who felt the need to bring weapons to school in response to concerns for their own safety, in their school and in their community.
Moreover, it is unclear if legal guns are also being considered as a school safety issue by EFSS given that statistically, guns legally purchased have overwhelmingly been used in school shootings. If the students in question on Dec. 16 brought guns to school that were legally purchased by their parents, would there be a similar outcry for metal detectors in the school? I doubt it.
If parents and caregivers are genuinely concerned about safe schools and keeping their students safe, they should redirect their attention to the root causes of violence, including gun violence. This has nothing to do with installing metal detectors in schools. This has everything to do with support, resources and safety in our community at large.
Relatedly, none of the resources or research posted on the EFSS coalition’s website support the use of metal detectors as an appropriate gun violence prevention strategy or solution. For example, Everytown for Gun Safety experts call for the creation of a multidisciplinary “evidence-based threat assessment programs.” This plan also calls for petitioning state legislatures to make funding available for schools to establish and support such threat assessment programs. Organizations cited on the EFSS webpage also advocate for stricter gun regulation and ownership laws. There is not one mention of installing metal detectors in schools.
I understand and share the fear and uncertainty that parents and students are feeling after a lockdown. When exposure to school violence (or even the threat of violence) occurs, it can significantly contribute to a negative school climate, affect students’ feelings of safety and influence their development. It is understandable that parents and students are feeling vulnerable and want to increase safety measures so that this “doesn’t happen again.” Installing metal detectors, however, does not address the root of the problem or the underlying factors involved in this particular incident. Moreover, a call for metal detectors diverts attention from existing emergency response protocols, including a lockdown, that were successful in keeping faculty, students, and staff safe on Dec. 16.
I am very concerned about student safety and gun violence. I am terrified about school shootings, and the thought of my children or any child involved in such a horrific event, and even a lockdown. I am also equally as concerned about the psychological effects on students starting their school day by walking through a metal detector or increased power provided to law enforcement officers in their school. These reactive measures also send a message to students that school is not, in fact, a safe place. Research shows that metal detectors bestow a “stigma” to schools, which adversely affects student well-being and learning outcomes. Metal detectors increase fear for safety among students. I am also concerned about any plan that advocates for expelling students whose only safe place may be their school campus.
Finally, I urge D202 administrators, faculty, staff, parents, and students to review and consider empirical research regarding this matter. Please see “Resources” below. Given your expertise and respective professions, I imagine much of this is already familiar to you.
Thank you for your time, for considering my perspective and concerns, and for making school safety and student well-being a priority at ETHS.
Katherine K. Walts
- “It’s Time to Revisit Metal Detectors in Schools,” opinion piece by Valerie Strauss and Carmen Black, PhD, Washington Post, 2021.
- Exploring School Violence and Safety Concerns, Green, E., 2020, Illinois Criminal Justice Authority.
- Bachman R, Randolph A, Brown BL. “Predicting Perceptions of Fear at School and Going to and From School for African American and White Students: The Effects of School Security Measures.” Youth & Society. 2011;43(2):705-726. Available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0044118X10366674
- “Impact of Metal detectors Used at School: Insights From Fifteen Years of Research,” a publication of the National Institute of Health. Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21223277/