On the Use of Metal Detectors at Public Schools

On July 21, 2012, 15-year-old Keijahnae Robinson was sitting on her aunt’s front porch with friends after attending a Sweet Sixteen birthday party. She was looking forward to her own celebration, which was a week away. Unfortunately, she became the thirteenth homicide in Bridgeport this year after two gunmen “sprayed the… porch she was on, striking her in the head and wounding her two friends.”[1] The family’s planned beach party for Keijahnae “became hushed preparations for her funeral and burial.”[2] While Keijahnae’s murder prompted widespread discussion regarding juvenile curfews in the city,[3] one response that has received less attention was the decision by the Bridgeport Board of Education to install metal detectors and “implement other provisions” at several schools, with the aim of avoiding future tragedies.[4]

What prompts any given school district to utilize metal detectors varies, though it unsurprisingly it is almost always linked to acts of violence on or off school grounds. For example, personnel in Hartford public schools use handheld metal detectors “[i]n view of the escalating presence of weapons in America’s schools today.”[5] The shooting suicide of a 13-year-old student at Stillwater Junior High School (in Oklahoma) late last month has administration admitting, “The metal detector question is something we’ll talk about pretty quickly.”[6] In Bridgeport, it was the off-campus shooting death of a young girl aspiring to be the next Mariah Carey.[7]

Public opinion of the use of metal detectors in schools is naturally divided. Bridgeport parents and students were “very grateful that the school has undertaken these extra measures of security.”[8] Others question the effectiveness of detecting weapons,[9] cite insufficient data to decide either way,[10] or argue safety isn’t the real issue.[11]

However, what is of greatest import to schools is the legality of metal detector use, which at this point in time is on their side. The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) appears to have provided its endorsement, noting that Fourth Amendment restrictions on searches and seizures still apply. As one member of CABE stated, “A school needs justifiable reasoning for implementing them such as a pattern of weapons.”[12] Courts will uphold the employment of metal detectors by school districts as a means to screen students for contraband or weapons that pose a risk of harm to the student body. Deemed a minimally intrusive search, “[t]he courts have allowed schools to use this method in order to ensure weapons are excluded from the school environment.”[13]

Students do not fully surrender their constitutional protections while at school, and as such it is important, as a parent, to understand and appreciate your child’s rights. If you believe that your child was subject to an impermissible search by school officials, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding school searches or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “Bridgeport girl, shot after Sweet 16 party, dies,” by Stacy Davis and Michael P. Mayko. Published July 21, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Bridgeport-girl-shot-after-Sweet-16-party-dies-3725251.php

[2] Id.

[3] See, e.g., “Relatives of shooting victim call for curfew,” by Stacy Davis. Published July 24, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Relatives-of-shooting-victim-call-for-curfew-3729055.php

[4] “Spike In Violence Prompts Bridgeport To Install Metal Detectors,” by Tikeyah Whittle. Published Spetember 11, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/spike_in_violence_prompts_bridgeport_school_to_install_metal_detectors/

[5] “Hartford Public School Board of Education Policies and Regulations.” Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.noahwebstermicrosociety.org/Board%20of%20Ed%20Rules%20Reg.pdf

[6] “Oklahoma teen suicide mourned,” by Christine Roberts. Published September 27, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-09-27/news/34131892_1_memorial-service-metal-detectors-prayer-service

[7] See Footnote 1.

[8] See Footnote 4.

[9] “Expert: Metal detectors aren’t guarantee,” by Brian Troutman. Published September 17, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.abc2news.com/dpp/news/education/expert-metal-detectors-arent-guarantee

[10] “Impacts of Metal Detector Use in Schools: Insights From 15 Years of Research,” by Abigail Hankin, Marci Hertz, and Thomas Simon. Journal of School Health, Vol. 81, No.2 pp.100-106. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.edweek.org/media/hankin-02security.pdf

[11] “The issue isn’t ‘safety,’ it’s guns,” by Lori K. Brown. Published September 19, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-09-19/news/bs-ed-schools-guns-20120919_1_gun-owners-school-gun-incidents-metal-detectors

[12] See Footnote 4.

[13] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., pp.62.