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U.S. schools: Security by metal detector?

Metal detectors
In Los Angeles, all high schools use metal detectors   
December 2, 1997
Web posted at: 11:08 a.m. EST (1608 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The fatal shooting in Kentucky has again focused public attention on security at U.S. schools, and above all raised the question: can students be adequately protected from violent crimes?

A shooting five years ago at a Los Angeles area school caused parents and school officials to search for new ways to keep violence out of school grounds.

In that incident, student Michael Ensley died when gunfire erupted at Reseda High School. And while parents and grieving families wondered what was going on at that school, they knew that the problem wasn't unique to the Los Angeles area and that the shooting could have happened anywhere.

In 1994, the federal government began requiring school safety programs in an attempt to crack down on violence on school grounds. Many schools introduced metal detectors to check for guns, knifes and other weapons.

The year after the measures were introduced, violent deaths on high school campuses across the United States dropped from an estimated 50 incidents a year to less than half that number.

And although the Supreme Court eventually overturned the federal requirements, most school safety measures remained in place. In Los Angeles, for instance, all high schools still use some sort of metal detectors.

Michael Ensely was killed by gunfire five years ago at Reseda High   

But some critics demand more than just these detectors. "What do we do at the end of four years? Give these students a certificate that says they've been through four years of metal scanning?" asked Ronald D. Stephens of the National School Safety Center.

Stephens and administrators at Reseda High School agree that prevention is a key factor in trying to avoid tragedies on school ground.

They put together a video about school discipline, which explains school problems of the past and compares them to those of today: in the old days, students could be suspended for chewing gum. Today, students are expelled for carrying guns. It's a message that Reseda High School students now also deliver in skits and songs to local elementary school children.

Reseda High says it has not found any weapons on students in recent years. But parents want to err on the safe side and keep the metal detectors in place, rather than be sorry later.

"The kids and their parents and the staff continue to say we want you to do it, every day," said Principal Robert Kladifko about the security checks.

So while there is a lingering fear that a shooting could happen again, everything possible is done to make sure that children can come to school and only focus on their studies, rather than worry about life and death.

Correspondent Anne McDermott contributed to this report.


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