Editorial: Don’t let political agendas muddy school security efforts

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Maybe Lawrence schools don’t need metal detectors to make them safer. Maybe the devices would do more harm than good. That is an open question.

At least it should be.

But a pair of Lawrence school board members seem to be working to stop that question from getting the attention it deserves. At last week’s school board meeting, board members Kelly Jones and Shannon Kimball both said they hoped district administrators weren’t going to spend much time researching the use of metal detectors. Both board members think they are a bad idea for Lawrence schools.

Again, that may end up being the case. But if district administrators do halt their research on the devices, it seems they will be at risk of taking a path that Superintendent Anthony Lewis has warned against.

Lewis has spoken of being thoughtful about the issue of school security, and he has come off as a credible and informed leader on the topic. He was the leader behind a pair of public forums after a rash of gun incidents in the district. The district received feedback from the public about ideas for making schools safer. Following the forums, the district created a list of 13 action items. One of those items was to “research clear backpacks and the effectiveness of metal detectors.”

Now, it is unclear whether research on either of those ideas will be completed by district administrators. (The two board members also expressed concerns about clear backpacks.) The board members perhaps felt they were doing the administration a favor by saving it time from studying a solution that has long odds of becoming reality. But there is a real risk to cutting off study of the issue. It sends a message that board members have too many preconceived ideas about a complicated topic, and are wary of having their ideas tested by the research of professional staff members.

It would seem that the board would want to take full advantage of the professional expertise of its administrators. Lewis came from a district that extensively used metal detectors in schools. He has firsthand experience that Jones and Kimball simply don’t.

Also troubling, though, is whether Jones and Kimball’s objections are a sign of political philosophies seeping into this security issue. Kimball praised the education efforts about gun safety the district is undertaking, and further said: “We can’t really do what we want to do, which is keep our kids safe in our buildings, if our community and our policymakers are not going to support us by making it less possible for people to have these weapons in their possession and bring them into our buildings in the first place.”

Board members, of course, are politicians so it is not inappropriate for them to promote political agendas. But we also should be clear-eyed about how much we should rely on potential political solutions in solving school security issues. Kansas lawmakers are more likely to arm teachers than they are to pass laws that place meaningful regulations on gun ownership or how guns are stored in the home.

Hopefully district leaders aren’t basing too much of their security strategy on one of the most Republican states in America tightening gun control laws. If so, they might as well put the Tooth Fairy in charge of district security.

It is fine for Kimball and others to wage that political fight, but let’s make sure it doesn’t get in the way of preventing the real fights: the ones with guns on school property.

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