Metro Phoenix high school installs weapons detectors in student-safety push

Apr 5, 2023, 4:05 AM

Verrado High School installed high-tech weapons detectors on its campus this year. Photo taken in B...

Verrado High School installed high-tech weapons detectors on its campus this year. Photo taken in Buckeye Feb. 22, 2023. (Video screenshot by Anna Stansfield/Cronkite News)

(Video screenshot by Anna Stansfield/Cronkite News)

BUCKEYE – Verrado High School is one of the first schools in the Agua Fria Union High School District to install weapons detectors on campus. The detectors are calibrated to detect heavy metals such as firearms. Verrado is one of five schools within the district receiving the high-tech detectors.

“There are still lots of things that go into school safety, and this is just one of the pieces,” said Nate Showman, principal at Verrado High School. “But I think just a visual is a good sense of assurance for students and staff knowing that safety is taken seriously in this district.”

Agua Fria has had at least six incidents involving weapons on campuses in the past 18 months since students returned to in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to district spokesperson Megan Griego. Showman said the detectors have been received well.

“Our kids and staff were really good about taking it seriously, listening to the things that we’re telling them because the detectors can kind of be a little bit touchy when the wind starts blowing, and things like that. So overall kids have been patient,” Showman said.

This year so far, there have been at least 39 incidents involving gunfire on school grounds in the U.S., according to Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. This includes a March 27 shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville in which a shooter killed three 9-year-old students and three staff members. Since 2013, there have been at least 1,064 incidents of gunfire on school grounds.

Arizona prohibits carrying of firearms on school grounds, with exceptions for law enforcement officials.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 6% of U.S. public schools had random metal detector checks in the 2019-20 school year.

The detectors at Verrado are just one additional part of the school’s safety plan, which also includes mental health specialists, security personnel and extra resources for students.

“The installation of our weapons detectors has gone really well. Our students are becoming more familiar with the process,” Griego said. “And so far, our students and staff have been really courteous and respectful of the process.”

The Opengate weapons detectors are designed to detect a wide variety of items in backpacks and purses, including high-caliber weapons, and are the same type of detectors that can be found at sporting events and concerts.

The district purchased 21 detectors and will spend about a half-million dollars to install them around the five schools, according to Axios.

The detectors were installed at entrance points around the school and have slowed the process of entering the school for some of the students and staff. But Showman said students and staff have been adjusting to having these detectors around the campus.

“I think some kids have been able to get to school earlier as a result. Our bus-traveling students are still kind of tied to the schedule of the bus. But that’s where our staff has been pretty lenient on, let’s work on getting kids into class. And each day, it’s been able to go by faster,” Showman said.

He hopes that because of these detectors, students can go to school without fear for their safety.

“At the end of the day, kids want to be here to learn and participate in activities and sports and have the high school experience. Staff want to be here so that they can connect with kids,” Showman said. “If they’re not feeling safe, then it’s hard for anybody to focus on any of the good things of the high school experience.”

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Metro Phoenix high school installs weapons detectors in student-safety push