LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Many are asking how a student got inside with a loaded gun at Frederick Douglass High School after enhanced security measures were put in place months ago.
A letter sent to Frederick Douglass High School families says the underclassman checked in after the school day started and was wanded with a handheld metal detector before his backpack was checked. The gun was considered "well-concealed" and undetected. The student was found with the gun while being disciplined later in the day.
We asked questions to school security experts and people with knowledge of Wednesday's incident so you will know how the gun made it through security, and whether the Fayette County Public Schools' recently-passed $13.5 million security plan would have prevented this from happening. We also cited the student code of conduct when answering questions.
1. How did the gun get into school?
"The student was late to school. When the student arrived, the student went through the front vestibule area, the front entrance of the school. The student was then wanded and searched, at that time. The student did not have his ID badge. Therefore, following our safety protocols, the student went to the SAFE room until the student could procure an ID badge. That time lapsed. The student then, at that point, was released on to class," principal Lester Diaz said. "That day there was a situation in the hallway that prompted an investigation and through that investigation, the administration team came to find out in his possession was the gun."
2. Would the new security changes your property taxes are paying for have prevented it?
"We found a gun at school today. So, in many ways, the safety protocols we have in place, worked today. Administrative searches, relationships we have with students, understanding that everybody on campus including adults has identification on their person, metal detectors, the safety ambassadors, the police department that we employ, all those things came together today and we found a gun in a child's backpack, and no one was hurt," Diaz said. "Folks that are educators will understand how efficient and effective everything fell into place and folks that are shocked by this information will be disappointed and hurt."
"One strategy will not stop anything bad from happening. It has to be a comprehensive approach and so when you look at it, metal detection is one part of the equation," Kentucky Center for School Safety executive director Jon Akers said.
"This is just one part of our safety plan. The use of metal detectors was just one piece of that. Additional law enforcement officers was also part. Additional counseling for students is a part of it, so that is just one portion of it to help make our schools safer. It is not fail-safe, but it is another layer to help provide safety to our students," Fayette County Public Schools chief of high schools Dr. Randall Peffer said.
"We understand that metal detectors and the safety protocols we put in place are not 100 percent fail-safe, sure and secure. Situations will happen. I would really like to emphasize that the administrative team at Douglass did a very good job of identifying the situation and handling it with extreme efficiency," Diaz said.
3. What will change with the current system?
"We're, as we speak, in the process of analyzing an after-action review of our safety protocols. All of our students that are dropped off in the morning, or dropped off by a parent or by the bus, come through the metal detectors, and through the metal detectors they also have to have their ID badges, and they have to have their backpacks checked. Students who are late to school come in through the vestibule. That is a secure vestibule, in which they are wanded and searched, at that time as well," Diaz said. "There is always two security ambassadors in the front vestibule."
"The entire situation is extremely unfortunate and cause for concern. We understand that metal detectors and the safety protocols that we put in place are not 100 percent fail-safe, sure and secure. Situations will happen. I would really like to emphasize that the administrative team at Douglass did a very good job of identifying the situation and handling it with extreme efficiency," Diaz added.
"As a district administrator, yes, I'm disappointed that this happened but the outcome, as we've said, it worked. The system, the weapon, no one was injured. Everything happened the way it should have," Peffer said. "After our after-action report, we will look at our protocol again of the searches of the backpacks. It was well-concealed so we're going to have to revisit with our security ambassadors, look at our current protocol and definitely tighten that up."
"When you see churches being subjected to shootings, when you see malls being subjected to shootings, theaters being subjected to shootings, there was even a nightclub last night out west that had a tragedy that occurred, people have enough firepower they can do anything they want to, but I think prevention in schools comes into two main categories: What can they do to look at the mental health things and work with kids there? Number two, enlist the parents in helping us try to stay ahead of the curve on these things," Akers said.
4. Are there security measures other places have that are better?
"Construction is definitely going to be a part of your overall security plan, but it's just a part. The big thing about school security is redundancy and layers. You just have to have layers." Department of Criminal Justice training commisioner Alex Payne said.
"There are things we can do from a construction standpoint. There are all kinds of things. The big thing being around controlling access, being able to control who comes and goes from your school. So, you're talking about simple stuff. You're talking about keypads with speakers on them that come back to an area that actually has cameras attached to it that you can see who's there and what they're doing and you can communicate with that individual while they're still outside your building," Payne added. "You'll hear people say, metal detectors don't work. Yeah, they do. President of the United States, they carry them wherever he goes."
5. Why don't students take backpacks through metal detectors?
"The backpack would buzz because of all the metal, all the zippers and everything would, so that's why we have to open them up and physically search them rather than putting them through the metal detector or wanding them because it would create a signal," Peffer said.
6. What is the current procedure for checking backpacks?
We received no answer from the school district, but students tell WKYT security uses a rod which allows them to see the contents inside the bag.
7. Should backpacks be banned?
"Marshall County, for example, at the high school and the middle school they're not allowing book bags in there so that eliminates one thing you could be bringing into a school concealed," Akers said. "I would say that would be a strategy that could possibly reduce contraband from coming into the school, so it should seriously be considered."
"History leaves a pretty good footprint. You don't have to study too far. History leaves a pretty good footprint about these things so, yeah, there you go. Get rid of backpacks," Payne said.
8. What happens to the student who brought the gun to school?
STATEMENT OF EXPECTATIONS & RESPONSIBILITIES: CODE OF CONDUCT STUDENT GUIDE
4.0 STUDENT CODE OF CONDUCT VIOLATIONS
"A student who brings a firearm/explosive device onto school property or to a school activity shall be suspended from school for 10 (ten) days and the superintendent shall report the incident to the board for expulsion, which may be up to and including 1 (one) calendar year. The board may modify these recommendations on a case-by-case basis.
A principal shall report any such incident, including those involving elementary students, to the superintendent. Additionally, the principal shall file a complaint/offense report with the FCPS Department of Law Enforcement for each such incident.
The superintendent or his/her designee shall determine whether the student involved has an identified disability. Incidents involving students with disabilities shall be reviewed by the appropriate Admissions and Release Committee (ARC) and determined on a case-by-case basis in compliance with federal and state law, while a student without such a disability shall be referred to the board for an expulsion hearing."
Akers also added more about disciplinary recourse beyond one school district.
"You've got several layers. You have criteria from state law, then you have Fayette County Board of Education policy, and then you have site-based council policy, and they can be quite prescriptive on what needs to happen. Generally speaking, when a student brings a firearm to school they are expelled for one calendar year and charges are filed through juvenile court," Akers said. "I'm very conservative when it comes to firearms in the schools. I think that if you don't have a meaningful consequence to impose when these things happen you may not change the behavior."
9. Who are the security officers and what training do they receive?
"We have security ambassadors that are contracted through the district to help us with the searching of backpacks and the implementation of the metal detectors," Peffer said.