Appoquinimink School District’s vote this week to install weapon detectors is the latest move by Delaware schools to combat violence and the presence of guns.
It’s an issue that’s plagued schools since fall, with the latest incident occurring Wednesday when a Sussex Central High School student was found with a firearm on school property.
The student was taken into custody and the firearm was also confiscated.
Districts have approached the problems in different ways – through hiring constables, increasing event security and more – often citing the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting on May 24, 2022, as spurring concern.
Trouble at fall football games and the discovery of guns in schools has ratcheted up fears.
Reason for detectors
In September, 2022, Appoquinimink School District and New Castle County Vo-Tech’s Howard High School changed their football admissions policies in response to a shooting that took place off of Appoquinimink High’s campus during a game, and another incident where crowds stormed the exits and hopped fences at a Howard game.
In February, a 16-year old male was charged in connection to a fired gun in Colonial School District’s William Penn High School.
On the same day as Colonial’s incident, unloaded guns were discovered in the backpacks of an 8-year-old and a 14-year-old at Shortlidge Elementary School and A.I. du Pont Middle School, respectively.
Last month, a gun was found in a hallway when Appoquinimink High School was hosting a basketball game against Tri-State Christian Academy.
A shot sounded when State Police went to check on some raucous behavior in a bathroom and the gun fell out of a pocket, discharging when it hit the ground.
No one was hurt.
Appoquinimink’s vote Tuesday night approved spending $498,684 on long-term safety measures recommended by a district task force.
The task force recommended installing weapon detectors at each of Appo’s three high schools, which would cost $41,557 each.
Tom Poehlmann, the district’s director of Safety, Security and Operations, said the detectors would reduce the burden on security teams. Administrators or constables can see an image on a screen showing the potential threat being carried in.
Stopping people to empty pockets and remove bags is not required with the machine, he said.
Groups of people can be screened simultaneously.
Appo is not the first to turn to that technology.
In October, New Castle County Vo-Tech School District bought two detectors for each of the district’s three schools for high-volume events like sports games.
Each one cost the district roughly $15,000, according to Superintendent Joe Jones.
“We were the first district to do this in this state, and from our perspective, these are just common everywhere now,” he said. “It’s not an indication by any stretch of our school population or even the county; it’s really just the times we live in, unfortunately.”
The district also has detector wands that security guards who are stationed at the machine can use.
Even without incidents, Jones said the detectors being present help students and staff feel safer, which helps improve the school climate.
Unlike Appo, New Castle County Vo-Tech owns the detectors, which are mobile and can be transported.
Appo plans to sign what is essentially a lease that lasts four years and would have to be renewed to keep the metal detectors. A single year would cost Appo $124,671, so signing a four-year contract would cost $498,684.
Pohlmann said the company he plans to use is Evolv, a Massachusetts security software company.
Appo has not set a date for hiring Evolv or installing detectors.
Both Appo and New Castle County Vo-Tech schools will use the detectors exclusively at large out-of-school events.
Indian River School District, which includes Sussex Central, doesn’t utilize metal detectors in its schools, according to Public Information Officer Dave Maull. However, he said, the district has had armed constables in all of its schools for the past 10 years.
Red Clay Consolidated School District has not purchased any weapon detectors.
Neither has Colonial School District, said Lauren Wilson, Colonial’s public information officer.
“Red Clay is taking a comprehensive look and approach to community safety,” said Red Clay Superintendent Dorrell Green. “This approach involves but is not limited to topics such as weapons in schools, vaping/drugs, digital threats and social media, bullying and cyberbullying, and other school community-related safety matters.”
Red Clay board member Jason Casper said he thinks the district should consider adding the machines.
“All educational buildings should have a weapons detection system/metal detectors at all entry points to that facility,” Casper said. “That should be an investment made by both the state of Delaware and the federal government.”
Violence and guns in schools are statewide and national problems, he said, so having state and federal funding would help thwart potential threats.
Red Clay’s board voted in January to form a Board Safety Committee to address the incidents and concerns of its families, including guns in schools. It will meet in two weeks, Green said at Tuesday night’s board meeting.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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