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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Through the metal detector to an education 

Some urban schools require all students to go through a metal detector to enter the building.

“Every morning, I stand behind the metal detectors, searching bags as students enter the school,” writes Adam Stumacher, director of instruction at Boston’s Henderson Inclusion School, in the New York Times.  Nearly all students at the public high school are low-income blacks and Latinos.

I think of our school’s work to design courses around diverse texts, hire teachers who reflect our students’ cultures and connect kids with opportunities like internships — how we welcome all students with the promise that we will not rest until they achieve their potential. But I see how their body language shifts when they walk through metal detectors, some wrapping their arms around themselves and others throwing their heads back in defiance. I see how they fixate on their phone screens or scarves, anything to avoid meeting my gaze. In that moment, there is no denying I am part of the machine.

Stumacher tries to engage students “by greeting them by name, asking about last night’s game, about their families, their plans for next weekend and for college.”

Sometimes, when I’m searching through bags, I see a book and ask a student how she likes it, what else she reads, and then maybe I recommend an author to check out. Sometimes she says thanks. But I wonder what she is really thinking as I zip the bag back up, hand it back and try to catch her eye as I say good morning, welcome to school. I’m glad you’re here.

Having to go through a metal detector can make school feel like prison, wrote Melinda D. Anderson in The Atlantic last year.

The more black and Latino students enrolled the more likely schools are to “adopt strict surveillance practices—metal detectors, locked gates, security cameras, random sweeps, and school police,” she wrote, citing a research paper by Jason P. Nance, a University of Florida law professor.

Metal detectors make schools “more of a safe zone,” Eric Weston, chief of Boston Public Schools police, told MassLive. Students “know they can’t bring in a weapon, but they also know the kid behind them can’t either.”

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