The Alexandria school board Thursday night gave the go-ahead to a pilot program that puts metal detectors in the city’s middle and high public schools.
Support for the program was overwhelmingly strong, according to an Alexandria City Public Schools survey taken by more than 4,300 community members, parents, staff, and students that was presented by ACPS Facilities and Operations Chief Alicia Hart.
Overall, 85 percent of respondents said they wanted weapons screening equipment in some or all schools, with 58 percent saying they wanted them in all schools, and 15 percent opposed.
Support among students was lower, but still strong. Among them, 73 percent were in favor of metal detectors in some or all schools; 44 percent wanted them in all schools; 28 percent were opposed.
An overwhelming 91 percent of staff said they want the equipment in some or all schools; 58 percent wanted them in all schools; 9 percent were opposed.
Parents and guardians were also overwhelmingly supportive of the move: 90 percent said they wanted them in some or all schools; 65 percent wanted them in all schools; 10 percent were opposed.
Hart said ACPS expects “receipt and installation of the equipment to happen by late April or early May.” The program would then launch in May.
Schools in the pilot program are Alexandria City High School’s two campuses (King Street and Minnie Howard), George Washington Middle School, and Francis C. Hammond Middle School.
Data collected from the pilot will be presented to the board “at one of the first meetings for the next year to be able to share out the results … and to gauge what the next steps would be with the board in terms of if we would roll this out division-wide or if we would do more of a phased approach,” Hart said.
The duration of the pilot program wasn’t specified at Thursday’s meeting.
Board member Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi said he appreciated efforts from school staff.
“I know that this is not an easy decision. And it’s controversial,” Elnoubi said, though the program has massive support in the survey results. “You can’t put a price on the safety of our students.”
The screening equipment, which uses artificial intelligence, carries a price tag of $60,000 per fixed detector and $13,000 per mobile device.
“We just need to understand — the entire city needs to understand — that it’s about the safety of their kids, not about the aesthetics, not what it looks like, not what it costs,” board member Willie Bailey said.
The vote to move forward with the pilot program was unanimous. Board member Christopher Harris was absent.
There were 28 reported incidents involving weapons during the ACPS 2021-2022 school year. Thirteen of those were in the first semester and 15 were in the second semester.
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