Metal detectors and security guards have been part of high school life in New Jersey’s largest city for more than 30 years. And students are pretty happy about it.
At Newark’s Malcolm X Shabazz High School in the city’s South Ward, students stand patiently in two separate lines, one for males one for females. They’re waiting to check their hats and cell phones for storage, have their bags searched and walk through a metal detector all before being “wanded” by a school security guard.
“No one gets by with anything,” said for 17-year-old senior Saskieya Anderson. “Like knives or guns or anything. If they find anything like that you’ll definitely be thrown out.”
All of Newark’s 14 public high schools employ security guards and most of them use metal detectors. At Shabazz, Principal Gemar Mills says the school needs the security because of the high crime rate in the neighborhood.
However, in Newark’s Central Ward, students enter Bard High School Early College each morning not to an xray, but a greeting from the principal.
“If you say good morning to a police officer or a security guard your school… it’s not as welcoming,” said16-year old Kate Jackson-Rakovsky, a sophomore at Bard.
Bard Senior Marvin Pinkar, 17, says objects to the proposal that police officers be placed in every school.
“That kinda defeats the whole idea of school. It’s a safe place to learn. They can think of a better way than to bring in policeman,” Pinkar said.
Bard Principal John Weinstein opted not to use metal detectors in their school entrance process.
“A lot of the models for urban education seemed to be very regimented and in some sense create almost a prison like atmosphere for the students and we really don’t want the students to feel like we presume that they’re future prisoners,” Weinstein said.
Paul Hirschfield, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University who studies criminal justice and schools, agrees.
“In most schools, the threats to safety, the things that make people afraid are problems like bulling and harassment,” Hirschfield says. “Police and metal detectors do not do anything to reduce problems of bullying and harassment; some have argued that police could increase the problem of bulling because they have a particular orientation and manor that can be somewhat forceful and coercive with people.”
But police officers in schools can promote school safety, said Lt. Patrick Kissane, president of the New Jersey Association of School Resource Officers.
“I used to give classes on what to do when you get stopped by the police, we gave classes on domestic violence, on victims rights,” Kisssane said. “Should police officers be unarmed? No. Because worst case scenario, just like law enforcement officers in any neighborhood, they’re there to prevent violence and to protect lives.”
Some Newark High Schools like Malcolm X Shabazz do employ the use of School Resource officers. Shabaaz Principal Gemar Mills says his students weren’t as offended as some may think.
“Initially I thought it would be a big deal but what I found out is that if you are transparent and you let them know what’s occurring, you can do anything as long as you stick to your word.”
Students were more upset when he eliminated cargo pants from the school dress code, Mills said. Even one of his seniors, 17-year old Ma-Lisa Winborne, who jokingly refers to the morning check-in as ‘airport security,’ says it does make her feel safer.
“We don’t know what you may have in that backpack. The safety of an entire school is worth way more than the checking of somebody’s purse or somebody’s book bag.”