Hello all, my name is Sammy Jo Barnes. I’m an owl enthusiast, regular bagel eater, cross-country runner, lover of hockey & listener of true crime...
Shawshank Redemption or Knoch High School?
a thorough discussion of the newest addition: metal detectors
October 11, 2019
The year is 2019. You’re standing in a line of people waiting to go through the newest update of Knoch High School: metal detectors. It’s the biggest thing to happen since the infamous mold epidemic. The days of waking up at the last possible minute and rolling into school at 7:39 are over.
“Five more! Five more!”
“Seriously? A pringles can goes off?”
“There’s literally nothing in my bag I don’t know what is setting it off.”
“Oh shoot, it was my watch. Sorry.”
These are all phrases that you may have either heard, or said, within the past few weeks. It’s been a difficult transition for most of us–well, all of us–and the student/administration communication has been mediocre at best. I mean seriously, if you haven’t witnessed at least one person walk into first period ranting about their experience minutes prior, then you’re lying.
On Instagram, I asked a wide range of students what their main questions, complaints, and issues were, and I surprisingly got a ton of great responses. The answers will be filtered within this article, beginning with why we have them in the first place.
“It’s something that a lot of schools around us have, so it’s not a new thing–it’s just new to Knoch,” said vice principal Mrs. Grantz. “There was some pushback initially because of logistics and how it would be difficult to get in in the morning, how we were going to run it all, and…is it really making the building safer?”
Mrs. Grantz has been taking charge of the gym entrance; if you haven’t heard her “5 minutes!” announcement or her voice in general at some point, then you must be at the wrong school.
“People will try to see what would set it off, like bringing in balls of foil. Also, I think a lot of times people think things are plastic, but they have a small metal coating on the outside–makeup brushes and things,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘that’s not even metal!’ but it actually does set it off.”
However, more people are trying to sneak in juuls rather than balls of foil for no reason. Head of security, Mr. Sarnese, has dealt with some strange situations.
“People will put them inside the metal water bottles, in ziplock bags. Another student decided to cut up one of your library books, like Shawshank Redemption if you will, cut the pages out and drop it in the middle of it,” he said. In case you’re wondering what the book was, it was World War Z (eventually turned into a Brad Pitt zombie movie).
“I don’t want to give anybody any ideas,” said Mrs. Grantz. “Because of that, now you may have heard me yell “textbooks and library books go through with you!” We want everything we can going through the metal detectors.”
Linden Sloane, who walks in late to class just about every morning, is in “full support of the metal detectors”, just “not in support of the [pRoCeSs].”
“Don’t misunderstand me, most of the people who check your belongings are total sweethearts, but the metal detectors are turned up TOO HIGH,” she said. “At Butler, they have the metal detectors turned up to 150. We have ours at around 175 or 180 (according to Mr. Sarnese himself).”
Mrs. Grantz and Mr. Sarnese explained that they want the metal detectors to be sensitive enough to detect knives and weapons, for example, in the middle of your backpack.
“There are some recommended settings for different places. We had them pretty high the first couple of days and everything was setting it off,” said Mrs. Grantz. “We pulled it down a little bit because we wanted you to be able to get through with zippers and stuff.”
However, students are still complaining about watches, zippers, clasps on boots, and even bobby pins going off. Or what about gum wrappers?
“When there’s a thick pack of them, they will [go off],” said Mr. Sarnese. “If they are scattered loosely around your backpack, they will not. But if you have a stack of them and they come in a little brick the size of your iphone, it will set them off.”
“People’s glasses are going off, packs of gum, zippers, etc. and the impatience of some of the workers is awful,” said Sloane. “They yell and scream and treat you like dirt at 7 A.M. because a gum wrapper was in your pocket. It’s just a huge inconvenience and honestly an AMAZING way to ruin everyone’s morning.”
Luckily, the sensitivity has been lowered since the first week, and people are starting to get the hang of it–for the most part.
“The lady yelled at me because I went off and I cried,” said senior Victoria Greenawalt. “She told me to figure it out so I looked at the security guy, asked for help, and sucked up my tears. I seriously stood there after she said that for like, two minutes staring at her and she never told me what to do. I was so confused.”
Though many may not want to hear this, they’ve put a lot of money into these things, and that’s why they want to take full advantage of them. Unfortunately, that means taking everything possible through.
“If you just spent 30 minutes on a school bus, that should be plenty of time for you to look through and get your articles together so you’re prepared once you hit the front door,” said Mr. Sarnese. “Drivers are the same way. Organize your stuff at home. When you get to the gym door, if you’re standing there for ten minutes sorting through your stuff, yeah, it’s going to take a while.”
I have started putting my pens, backpack pins (still sad I had to take them off), glasses, and other rando stuff in a plastic bag. After having issues the first three or four weeks of metal detectors, I finally feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it. It’s a small change that has been a huge time saver.
“Our goal is that people limit the amount of metal that they have. We aren’t going to ask anyone to buy new things–the school year started, but in the future, if you are buying new things, maybe just avoid buying the bookbag with the extra metal clips on it, or three ring binders,” said Mrs. Grantz. “You can get plastic ones.”
Some students were curious as to why the metal detectors weren’t set up like the ones at Steeler games (ironically something my dad complains about all the time, claiming the ones at Heinz Field take forever and create an even more unsafe environment than the ‘old days’).
“At a Steeler game, you have choices where if you have no bags, you go through the metal detector and you go on your way,” said Mr. Sarnese. “Otherwise, you have a bag that needs checked. Every kid that comes through our school has a bag. Or five.”
“It’s safer to have the bag go through because there are so many compartments. We don’t want to miss something, so if you’re walking through, it ensures us that there are no large metal objects,” said Mrs. Grantz. “People come through with huge sports bags; to make sure you’re getting every inch of that? It puts a lot on the searcher.”
Those searchers happen to be getting paid big bucks to stand there sorting everyone’s crap.
“They aren’t volunteers, just for fun, and currently cost the district almost $75,000 a year to pay for those eighteen people monitoring those detectors,” said Mr. Sarnese, reminding me that they are in fact, “your tax dollars, Ms Barnes”.
For Aleyda Simsek, an exchange student from Germany, this is an all new process for her. “So for me, the metal detectors are very new. We in Germany don’t have school shooting problems because it’s hard to get a gun there,” she said. “Therefore it’s a little bit annoying for me. But here in America, it’s different with the guns. So I can totally understand having those metal detectors to prevent a school shooting.”
He says there are different things that they are looking at, such as x-ray type devices that are extremely expensive and not nearly as quick.
“Some of the bags that you can’t figure out what it is because it’s hidden inside the fabric…you can run those through an x-ray machine and figure it out right away,” he said.
The seniors in particular haven’t taken this new change with a grain of salt.
“They look hard and long at my chai tea every morning, like for 30 seconds she smells and swirls it around like I’m bringing a martini into school at 7 A.M. to get crazy crunk in English,” said senior Mitchell Gore.
Senior Brady Collins said “getting beeped for things you can’t even control ruins your morning”.
One student said, “One lady takes all of the pens out of my bag and hands me my pen case and my pens separately. I have over fifty pens.”
Another said, “I just think having to empty our bags every day and not having the freedom of expression to wear jewelry and other clothing articles because it’ll set them off is my biggest problem.”
A lot of students, especially newspaper and Knoch News kids, don’t like that we no longer have Channel One time to do our interviews and filming. For others, it’s time to talk to teachers, finish homework, or make up tests.
“Well there is no more Channel One, so when people refer to it as [such] it kind of irritates me,” said Mrs. Grantz. “I think it makes more sense at the beginning of the day instead of in the middle of the day to get you started and you know what’s going on.”
But what is the point of moving Channel One if we still have to be in class by 7:40?
“We wanted to give some leeway–we knew there would be some hiccups at the beginning with implementing the metal detectors and that it was going to take some time to get kids in,” she said. “But that’s a structured time, you need to be there at 7:40 because we have things planned like Knoch News and Rachel’s Challenge. It’s a change, people get angry.”
“Once the snow comes, and the buses get late due to road conditions, we wanted a buffer there to enable the students to be there for the actual start of instruction,” said Mr. Sarnese.
Speaking of winter–what the heck are we going to do when it gets cold?
“Our goal is, and I think we are accomplishing it now, everybody is in on time,” said Mrs. Grantz. “We’ve implemented another entrance in the music wing just so people weren’t waiting outside.”
In future years, they may be adding on to the gym entrance of the school so there is more of a “hallway” area to stand. But obviously this is all still up in the air.
“We work really hard to make sure that all exterior doors are locked and people aren’t propping them open,” said Mrs. Grantz. “We are trying to make the inside as secure as possible.”
So what have I gotten from all of this? Unfortunately, after high-profile incidents of violence at school, many parents and others in the community expect an immediate response. That puts a lot of pressure on the administration to “do something”, when in reality, there is no single solution, or even a strategy to guarantee safety at school. I’m sorry, but there is just no way. If someone wants to commit a violent act, they will find a way to do it.
“The metal detectors are adding another layer of security. In no situation can you ever be a hundred percent safe. Unless you turn this place into prison conditions, there are always ways, people will find a way to bypass whatever system you have, but it is another layer to try and cut back on possibilities coming through the front door,” said Mr. Sarnese.
Though metal detectors can be a hassle, I truly do believe we’ll get used to them eventually. They aren’t going away; we as students have to get into a routine so we don’t lose our minds come June.
“At the end, the metal detectors are for our safety and after a while you get used to it,” said Simsek.
“My daughter is in Armstrong, she’s in elementary–4th grade,” said Mrs. Grantz. “She walks through metal detectors. So when people complain, I say, ‘my nine year old goes through metal detectors every day and she doesn’t complain’.”
So KHS, hang in there. Mars does it, Butler does it, everyone does it. If the devices do happen to help confiscate even one weapon from an individual intending to do harm with it, I believe that it makes the investment worth it.
“We will do whatever we can to ensure the safety of the students and the staff,” said Mr. Sarnese. “Obviously the last thing we want to have happen here is for us to become another national statistic.”