Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Petition: Metal Detectors Treat Black, Latino Students Like Criminals

A new petition asks New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to end the use of metal detectors in schools. Source: Flickr/ Miguel Mendoza (CC BY 2.0)

A petition addressed to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is asking the administration to end the use of metal detectors in schools, claiming the added security measures unnecessarily treat black and Latino students like criminals. 

The petition opens: “You ordered the police to stop ‘stop and frisk.’ Now we want you to end the use of metal detectors to scan students entering public schools.”

It argues that students feel “hassled, uncomfortable, annoyed, and that their rights are being violated,” and that the machines contribute to a “distrust of authority.” Metal detectors in schools, it states, prepare students for a life in prison.

In a blog for The Huffington Post, Hofstra University Professor Alan Singer points out that de Blasio did recently revise New York City schools’ discipline codes to reduce suspensions and the threat of arrest. 

However, “So far the Mayor and Schools Chancellor have remained silent on one of the most disturbing carry-overs from their predecessors’ misguided school discipline agendas, metal detectors in New York City high schools,” Singer writes. “It is not clear that anyone at Department of Education either knows exactly what the city’s policy on the deployment of metal detectors in schools is or even their locations. They are just there.”

By his count — derived from New York Civil Liberties Union and Insideschools.org records — at least 178 schools in New York City still have permanent metal detectors students must walk through upon entering the building.

In a city where 40 percent of students are Latino and 28 percent black — according to 2013-14 numbers from the New York State Education Department — the NYCLU estimates more than 100,000 students attend high schools with metal detectors. Of these students, 44 percent are Latino, 43 percent are black, 7 percent are Asian and 5 percent are white. Singer calculates this to mean 15 percent of all Latino students who attend the city’s public schools pass through metal detectors on a daily basis. The same is true for 25 percent of black students, 5 percent of Asians and 4 percent of whites.  

According to the National School Safety and Security Services website, most schools that use metal detectors are in urban school districts with a history of chronic weapons-related criminal offenses. But schools with metal detectors are the exception — not the rule, according to NSSSS. 

“School officials must…exercise caution to avoid overreaction, knee-jerk reactions and/or the temptation to throw up security equipment after a high-profile incident primarily for the purpose of appeasing parents and relieving parental, community and media pressures. Doing so may very well create a false sense of security that will backfire on school officials in the long haul,” a section on metal detectors reads. It suggests schools consider a random metal detector check approach rather than an everyday check point. 

So far, the petition to remove them from New York City schools has received only 96 signatures on Change.org, with many respondents commenting that a school should feel like a safe place — not a prison.