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Detectors Don't Belong In Schools

September 27, 2006
By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Writer

The deep baritone of the Rev. Alfred Smith was actually becoming persuasive, but I wasn't ready to go there.

The pastor of St. James Baptist Church in New Britain was making his points about why metal detectors were needed in New Britain High School. This month, a student there allegedly was found with a loaded pistol and ammunition.

Err on the side of safety. We don't need another Columbine, The Rev. cautioned, reminding that in 1993 an NBHS student was shot and killed on the school steps by youth rivals. Smith's church recently hosted a meeting where petitions were circulated to support detectors.

Still, as the kids might say, I wasn't feelin' it. What does it say about us as a society that we have no other recourse but to check teenagers for weapons before they enter schools? Good Lord. To me, using metal-detecting wands at public schools is as sacrilegious as wanding a parishioner coming to church.

A day after Smith and I chatted, two 16-year-old Bloomfield kids were arrested Friday; a loaded gun was allegedly found in one of their possessions at an East Hartford alternative school both attended. Police received a tip that the teens planned on killing three students there.

Also this month, a loaded gun was allegedly brought to Bloomfield High School by the son of a Hartford police officer. New Haven public schools, in response to a rash of summer youth violence, this semester expanded the use of metal detectors to all of its 13 high schools.

New Britain's school administration will make a recommendation to its school board Monday on whether to implement full-time use of wands. It's a no-win situation. Vote yes for detectors, and folks like me will say it's an overreaction. Vote no, and you're one more mishap away from catching hell from community leaders like Rev. Smith, who could righteously say "we told you so."

"This is a community issue. This is a city issue. This is a Connecticut issue," said New Britain Assistant School Superintendent Ron Jakubowski. "A lot of things end up in the school because that's where all the kids have to go every day. But we have to deal with it as a community."

The problem of kids bringing guns to schools is directly attributed to lax parenting. In talking to administrators, teachers and students, the one thing they all said about the gun problem is that it's mostly gang related. Gangs, of course, are a magnet for kids who've been neglected or abused. By showing up to school strapped, it gains these fake thugs a measure of respect - at least in their own minds.

"It falls back on the parents," said Tyrone Thompson, 16, a junior honors student at New Britain High who'd like to attend New York University and become a lawyer. "My parents were strict on me about school and getting my education."

Metal detectors, Thompson said, are a superficial fix to address "the fear of getting shot or stabbed at school," but they won't deter the mentality of someone bent on causing trouble on school grounds. As he walked home from school Tuesday, 15-year-old Andres Concepcion agreed.

"If a kid feels like bringing a gun in, he's going to bring a gun in," Concepcion said. "I'm just trying to get my education so I can get out of here; that's what's motivating me."

Well there's one positive to all this: The kids who want to make something of themselves see the ignorance of their pistol-packin' peers, and they'd just as soon get their diplomas - and get out of Dodge.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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