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Madison schools adopt metal detector policy

MADISON (WKOW) — The biggest school district in South Central Wisconsin now has a policy for the use of metal detectors to check students for weapons on campus.

The Madison Metropolitan School Board adopted a policy Monday night during a contentious board meeting.

According to safety and security coordinator Joe Balles, the policy came after a shooting near La Follette High School involving students in September. In reaction, the district decided to use metal detector wands on La Follette students as they walked into school for a few days.

“When we did that we realized we didn’t really have anything in our day-to-day policies that addressed how to do what we did,” Balles said.

The district settled on two appropriate scenarios.

The first case would be situations like what happened at La Follette. A principal can request “wanding” for a widespread safety concern and the superintendent and Balles would get to approve the request and set up the security measures.

The second scenario would be a safety drill. Balles said the district would pick a random high school on a random day to conduct the searches.

“There’s numerous safety drills that our students and staff are already doing. To me, the wanding is just one additional thing we’re doing to keep our schools safe.”

According to the policy in both situations the district would set up signs outside the schools and have a separate lines for male and female students. Two security officials of corresponding genders would conduct the searches in each line.

Some parents disagree with the approach.

Ananda Mirilli has a daughter at La Follette High School. We spoke with her shortly after the September shooting and she’s followed the issue since, deciding to run for school board in December.

She said she opposed the metal detectors in September and she opposes them now. She believes the use of metal detectors treats all students like criminals, which is not needed in traumatic situations like La Follette experienced.

“To me that was counteractive to like the sense of belonging and the learning space that we want,” Mirilli said.

Her opponent, incumbent T.J. Mertz, said in an interview with The Cap Times that he voted to approve this policy because it included some protections for students. Those protections weren’t there when students were searched at La Follette in September.

Balles said it’s not the school’s intention to make any student feel singled out or criminalized. He said their primary goal is to make students feel safe.

He says many parents have told him they support this decision.

“We live in a culture of gun violence and if we are not accepting that reality and taking some steps to try to make sure that our students and our staff are safe in our schools than we’re remiss in our duties as administrators,” he said.

Balles said wanding would never target any specific student. Instead the schools would either wand every student as they come into school or they would randomly select students based on a specific criteria like, every fifth student.

If the school had reason to believe there was a safety concern related to an individual student, the school resource officer would approach that student directly. It would not result in a school-wide “wanding.”

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Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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