Since the Marshall County High School shooting on Jan. 23, 2018, the community has deliberated ways to increase security and safety for its students. In the fall of 2018, 12 metal detectors were installed in three different schools in the district.
Five years later, the efforts to increase safety continue to be a top priority for the Marshall County Board of Education. In April, the board approved the purchase of six new weapons detections systems for its schools.
Four of the systems were bought with approximately $400,000 from federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds through the American Rescue Plan. The federal funding supports the safe and sustained return to in-person learning and expands equity by supporting students who need it most, particularly those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Software for the remaining two systems will be funded for four years through a grant.
The systems purchased will use sensor technology and artificial intelligence to screen students and visitors. The systems are faster than metal detectors because they can scan people without them having to stop or hand over their belongings to be searched.
“Metal detectors are great and make people safe,” Superintendent Steve Miracle told the board at its April 20 meeting. “But right now, many students have to take off their belts and shoes each day. This [new system] removes that. The students will now be able to walk in and it will feel more like school again. And it’s even more safe than what we’re currently doing.”
Other Kentucky school districts, such as Christian and Jefferson, have also purchased advanced weapon-detection systems for their schools.
The new systems, according to Marshall County Director of Pupil Personnel Brent Lovett, are “evolved, safer and more accurate.” He said that the systems are “very quick and user friendly and safer than what we have now.”
Once the new systems are in place at Marshall County High School, North Marshall Middle School and South Marshall Middle School, the metal detectors those schools currently have will be moved to the district’s elementary schools to screen visitors.
Miracle told school board members at their April 20 meeting that a committee was formed in December to begin reviewing the new system, which it recommended buying after reviewing it in action in a school in Illinois.
Some students have shown support for their school district’s efforts to prioritize their safety. They like that the new system is convenient and they will not have long congested lines, said Sarah Umbarger, a junior at Marshall County High School.
Umbarger said she is grateful for the district’s efforts to prioritize students’ safety.
She said while the current system does make her feel safe, she was happy to learn said the school would be getting an even better system.
“Although I wish we didn’t live in a world where this is needed, I do feel better knowing this will be in place when I go back to school in August,” she said. “Knowing that my school is making student safety a top priority means a lot to me.”
Umbarger is actively involved in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, which released a report on measures that could be taken to increase school safety that was presented to lawmakers and state officials in January.
“Our goal is for students to have the best education possible. Before they can be ready to learn, they have to feel safe,” she said. “Hopefully our report can give guidance to help students feel safer in their schools.”
Marshall County’s school resource officer Chris Glenn –who previously worked in both the Marshall and McCracken County Sheriff’s Offices — agrees with Umbarger that safety is important in schools and must always come first.
“Priority number one is the safety of the students and we do whatever we need to do so that they are safe and feel safe,” he said.
Glenn also made the point that the “same systems are at professional sporting events, Disney, and Six Flags.”
The district anticipates the new systems to be fully installed in all schools by the start of the 2023-2024 school year.