Henrico County Public Schools puts the safety of its students and staff first. Even with multifaceted safety places in place, the school division continuously explores new resources, technologies and best practices to support and maintain schools and campuses that are both secure and conducive to learning.
As part of HCPS’ ongoing efforts, the division is field-testing metal detectors and scanners in schools across the County. Division leaders selected schools across the county’s five magisterial districts, representing campus-style and traditional school buildings, for the field test.
Understandably, students, employees and families may have questions about the field test and how the school division will use the information it gathers. Answers to the following frequently asked questions are shared to provide clarity.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of the metal detector field test?
The field test’s goal is to understand better the logistical and financial implications of using metal detectors and weapons scanners, and their impact on instructional time, school culture and the school community’s perceptions of safety. The field test is designed to try different models of detectors, gather data and feedback and inform future decisions.
When is the field test taking place?
The field test is underway now, with the installation of equipment and staff training taking place. For security reasons, the school division is not sharing the specific dates that detectors will be used at participating schools. The field test will end before spring break.
What schools are participating in the field test? How were they selected?
The field test will include multiple phases and include campus-style and traditional school buildings. The division’s emergency management office will use Phases I and II findings to determine if the field test needs to expand to gather more information.
- Phase I: High schools
Metal detectors will be deployed at entry points at Mills Godwin, Hermitage and Varina high schools.
- Phase II: Middle schools
Weapon detection scanner technology similar to what visitors might see at the entrance to theme parks or sports stadiums will be tested at Brookland and Short Pump middle schools.
Phase III: Elementary schools
Based on information gathered during the first two phases of the field test, the weapons detection scanner technology used at middle schools was found to be the most developmentally appropriate to test at elementary schools. They will be deployed for multiple days at Lakeside Elementary School.
What types of metal detectors are being used and what is the process?
There will be changes and potential disruptions as students arrive at participating schools. Still, it is essential that the entire school community participates fully to help inform the next steps for the division.
In Phase I, students will pass through free-standing detectors. Before walking through, they will empty pockets and give staff their bag or backpack. If the alarm sounds, the student must step to the side to be scanned by a trained staff member using a wand. Although the wand does not touch the person, it makes a noise when detecting metal. Bags and backpacks will also be scanned using a wand and searched if the alarm sounds.
In Phase II and Phase III, all students will pass through free-standing, hi-tech weapon scanners. Students must hand their laptops to a staff member as they walk through the scanner. If the alarm sounds, the student will remove items from pockets and go through the scanner again. If the alarm sounds a second time, the student must step to the side to be scanned by a trained staff member using a wand.
Who will pass through the detectors?
During Phase I, some days all students will pass through the free-standing detectors using the process explained above. On other days, students will be directed through the detectors using a consistent entry count —for example, every fifth person may go through the detector.
During Phase II and Phase III, all students will pass through the scanner technology.
In all phases, visitors will continue to enter the school through the main entrance vestibule. A free-standing detector may be there on any given day. The school will deny entry to any adult visitor who refuses to go through the detector/scanner.
Who is operating the metal detectors/scanners?
At each participating school, a team of trained administrators, school resource officers, school safety officers and members of the HCPS safety team will manage and monitor the entry process.
What if a weapon or illegal substance is found?
If a weapon or illegal substance is found, police will take possession of it immediately. The person bringing the item(s) onto school property will face potential charges by police and disciplinary action by the school aligned with the HCPS Code of Student Conduct.
What resources are available to students or employees who are anxious about the metal detectors?
As shared by principals at participating schools, families are encouraged to talk with students about the field test and what to expect in advance. School counselors are prepared to support and assist students experiencing anxiety over new arrival procedures or metal detectors at their school.
Employees with concerns or anxiety about the field test should speak with their supervisor or contact the Employee Assistant Program offered through the school division’s health benefits.
What if I don’t want my children to participate in the field test?
To be effective, it is essential that the entire school community participate at schools where field tests are underway. If your child cannot pass through the metal detector for medical reasons, please contact the school nurse or the principal. Otherwise, the expectation is that all students will follow staff directions regarding this important safety matter.
What if a student refuses to pass through the detector/scanner?
Students who refuse to go through the detector/scanner will be removed from the area and searched by an administrator and the SRO. If the students refuse this search, their parents will be called and the students will be sent home.
According to HCPS Policy (P6-04-003/ P6-04-003 R), students who refuse will not be allowed in the building and will face disciplinary action aligned with the Code of Student Conduct.
How will the school division get feedback?
Students, parents/caregivers and employees from participating schools will be able to provide feedback at the end of the field test through focus groups. The principal will share details.
What happens at the end of the field test?
School division leaders will use feedback gathered at participating schools, logistical data and research on the effectiveness of scanners in schools to determine the next steps following the field test. After the evaluation period, Dr. Cashwell will communicate with the school board and families about the division’s learnings.
My child’s school is not part of the field test. What are the safety measures in place at other schools?
The school division’s multilayered safety plan includes, but is not limited to:
- Technology and security equipment (cameras, sensors, alarms, web filtering, etc.)
- School resource officers (SROs) and school safety officers (SSOs)
- Site-specific emergency response plans
- Training for staff
- Emergency drills for students and employees
- Safety and security audits
- Partnerships with police and first responders
- The Anonymous Alert reporting system
- A rapid notification system to keep families informed