VALDOSTA — What more could the new, state-of-the-art Valdosta High School need in terms of security?
Apparently, metal detectors.
Valdosta High School has $30,000 to spend, a gift from state government, to be used for security and safety purposes.
Because the new high school, which has been open for a year now, contains many of the bells and whistles a safe and secure building would need — cameras, locked doors, even a guest checkpoint — Valdosta School Superintendent Dr. Todd Cason told board members last week he wants to add metal detectors to the school.
“The reason we’re having this conversation is because we have the funds,” Cason said. “We’re looking at various items to purchase and enhance our security at the high school. It’s just something we are discussing at this time, not because we had a major problem.”
Cason stressed just because metal detectors are being considered doesn’t mean VHS has major safety concerns.
He provided board members with a packet that revealed VHS incident data.
One knife was confiscated in 2019, while one knife, one handgun and one rifle were taken in 2018. There were six knives and other weapons total found in 2017 and 2016 and only two knives confiscated in 2015.
“Our best notification has been students who have felt comfortable and safe to report what they hear,” Cason said. “Oftentimes, our best and most efficient way of finding things out is through our students.”
Metal detectors come with plenty of pros and cons, which Cason listed for school board members.
The security measure would allow for searching for and finding weapons before entering the main part of the building, discourage other students from ever bringing weapons and cultivate a feeling of safety.
On the other hand, Cason said it could send the wrong message to students, parents and the community that VHS is unsafe, it would require at least five staff and one security resource officer per detector and studies have shown metal detector practices at schools aren’t always consistent.
It would also be timely to monitor more than 2,000 students.
“You could be talking an hour,” Cason said. “It could be extensive.”
Metal-detector staff would have to undergo extensive training as well, Cason said.
The good news is board members have some time to think on the issue. By July 2020, if the money is not used, the state will take it back.
According to Campus Safety magazine, 8 percent of public high schools used metal detectors back in 2013-14.
Other ideas discussed include providing more handheld wands and radio for staff, putting more cameras in place or even looking into having panic buttons on ID badges, similar to a program Dougherty County Schools is piloting.
Some board members liked the idea of hiring more security.
“I hate the thought that we could ever get to that point of a threat at a school, but we need more SRO officers,” Chairman Trey Sherwood said.
Unfortunately, the $30,000 for each school is a one-time payment, Cason said, meaning paying a salary would not qualify for these funds.
The system received $240,000, which only includes $30,000 for eight campuses.
Valdosta Early College Academy and Horne Learning Center do not qualify to receive safety funding because the two campuses are technically not schools, but rather programs.
“We don’t get money because they’re a program?” said Stacy Bush, board co-chair. “That’s absolutely asinine.”
The board agreed to look into ways to provide missing funding for VECA and HLC but didn’t go into specifics during the meeting.
Conversations will continue while board members analyze the pros and cons of having metal detectors, but they are not sure at what meeting they will finalize the decision.
The next Valdosta Board of Education meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., Aug. 27, at the superintendent’s office, 1204 Williams St.
Katelyn Umholtz is a reporter with the Valdosta Daily Times. She can be contacted at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256.