New security system will greet Lee students come 2023-24 classes
In response to nationwide school shootings and threats to its local schools, the Lee County School Board has approved $3.2 million to purchase weapons detectors that will roll out for all K-12 public schools when students return for the 2023-24 year.
David Newlan, executive director of Safety, Security and Management for Lee schools, said he spent over a year researching security systems before choosing the portable, battery-operated OPENGATE system.
“We want parents to know their kids are in good hands, and this is one more layer of security that we are adding to our school system,” Newlan said.
The walk-through devices, made by CEIA USA Ltd. of Twinsburg, Ohio, will not be used as traditional metal detectors. Though the sensitivity to metal can be adjusted based on need, the devices will be set to detect metal objects larger than a Swiss army knife.
Setting the sensitivity level too high would cause nonthreatening objects to trigger the alarm and would delay students and staff when entering the building each morning – much like going through airport security.
Because they weigh about 25 pounds, the detectors can be moved to the office for students arriving late or can be transported to football games and other events. They can be suctioned to the ground or attached to a base plate.
Lee board reviewing school security options
How many are placed in each school will depend on the design and entry points of the building, but the district has ordered enough for each campus to have at least two.
While parents undoubtedly support added protection for their children, many have questions and concerns about the new safety measure.
Ambra Lydick has four school-aged children in Cape Coral schools. She said this is “sad, but necessary” to keep children safe.
However, she has concerns for her sixth grader who attends Trafalgar Middle School. Her daughter, who has Type 1 diabetes, wears an insulin pump and a glucose monitor. Walking through a metal detector can interfere with the medical devices’ settings.
“You might go through it 99 times and nothing happened,” Lydick said. “And then you can go through it the 100th time, and it triggers something to give you a bolus of 25 units of insulin and you die.”
Lydick said taking the devices off each morning is not feasible. Removing them requires cleaning the port sites and increases the risk of ruining a sensor.
Tom McDermott, the national sales manager for K-12 at CEIA, said the system has been tested by a third-party research group, Seibersdorf Laboratories, which has deemed it safe for people with medical devices when the setting is on low.
McDermott said, “Doctors, just generally speaking, they say it’s not safe because they don’t know what detectors you’re walking through.” But his company successfully provides security for people “from the pope to the president, dignitaries around the world.”
Still, it is not a risk Lydick is willing to take and would feel more comfortable with school personnel scanning her daughter with a handheld wand.
“I think this is a great thing to keep everybody safe, but part of everybody includes my child,” she said.
Newlan said CEIA, which was founded in 1962, has provided medical documentation that shows the security gates are safe for people with medical devices.
“But if somebody is really concerned about their medical situation, we can provide the secondary search with wands instead,” he said.
Aimee Naughton has a sixth- and seventh-grader enrolled at Trafalgar Middle and a ninth-grader at North Fort Myers High School.
“I think for some kids, it will be comforting,” she said. “And then for some kids, I think it will increase their anxiety. I think I have both of those kids in my household, just knowing their personalities.”
Naughton said she is grateful the district is purchasing the devices, but she also feels there is a larger problem that needs addressed.
“I still feel like we’re continuing, as a society, to avoid the root cause of these things … instead we’re just putting Band-aids on it,” she said, referring to implementing stricter gun laws. “But they’re trying. They are trying to do something to keep our kids safe.”
Naughton has questions about what a school day will look like next year. “How much earlier are they going to need to get to school, or is the start of the school day going to be impacted?” Naughton asked. “Certainly, at the beginning.”
Newlan said parents can expect an adjustment period as students learn a new routine. Students will have to remove laptops and metal thermoses from their backpacks and hand them around the detectors to a staff member before walking single file through the scanner.
Signs will remind students to take certain items out of their bags before entering.
“Once you’ve got the students on board and it becomes a daily routine, it won’t be disruptive at all,” Newlan said. “After a while, it becomes everyday routine.”
Staff monitoring the devices will be watching for a flashing red light, and some staff may be wearing earbuds to listen for an audible alarm. If a student or staff member triggers the alarm, that person will be pulled aside for a secondary search.
“We're trying not to disrupt when kids come to school,” Newlan said. “Obviously, they'll see these as they come in, but we’ll try to make it where you walk through as normal as possible.”
Gabriel Acosta’s son is in pre-K at Orange River Elementary in Fort Myers. “Anything to increase security and be a deterrent for any future aggressors, I’m all for it,” Acosta said. “I don't mind these detectors as long as we have the right people working them.”
The district has yet to determine who will be monitoring the systems for each school, but Newlan said the school district will be training existing staff over the summer on how to conduct searches and use the equipment, including the app that controls the device settings. As of now, there are no plans to hire additional personnel.
As for maintenance, the devices only require to be charged every day, with a battery life of 10-12 hours. If one breaks down, CEIA will send out a representative to repair or replace the unit.
Acosta is not concerned his 5-year-old will be affected by the presence of the detectors. “Nowadays, kids are already used to having this fencing and all these security measures in place,” he said. “This is just one more element.”
But Acosta thinks it’s possible the devices may cause other students anxiety. “Hopefully, they just realize it's for their safety and not that there's an impending incident coming their way,” he said. “As long as things are explained to them, that this is why we do this for them, I think they should be good with it.”
Cassie Sampson’s fourth-grader and kindergartner are enrolled at Diplomat Elementary in Cape Coral.
“While I think it's sad that this is the world that we live in now, there's also a part of me that feels like it's necessary to protect our kids,” she said.
Sampson feels Diplomat is a safe school, but she has fears about her oldest going into middle school in two years. Sampson said this is a good step to keeping her children safe, but it does not eliminate every threat.
“People know how to make bombs out of liquid, and this wouldn’t deter somebody bringing a small vial of a flammable liquid into school,” she said. “There’s always going to be something.”
Newlan, who was the Cape Coral police chief before his position with the district, agrees. “There’s never a guarantee in anything we do,” he said. “I look at layers of security, and this is just one of those layers. So am I done with security in schools, adding new ideas or designs? Absolutely not.”
Helen Yurjevich’s daughter is an 11th-grader at Cypress Lake High School. Yurjevich is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the schools in her district had weapons detectors. She said it is “awesome” Lee County is putting them in.
“They didn't detect everything, but they could pick up a lot,” Yurjevich said. “It’s better than nothing.”
She said one of her daughters wore a feeding tube and medical equipment when she was in the ninth grade, and the Pittsburgh school allowed her to be scanned with a handheld wand each day.
“And the kids got used to it,” Yurjevich added. “Of course, the first few days, it took a little bit longer. But once they were used to it, it was just normal, everyday protocol.”
Rob Spicker, the spokesperson for Lee County schools, said things may run a little slowly at first, especially for schools that will have fewer entrances next year.
“But there are campuses in the Orlando area in particular that are able to get 4,000 students through a system like this and start school on time every single day,” he said.
Broward County Public Schools — where the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left 17 dead in 2018 — also put detectors in its schools last year.
Newlan said the same technology is used at Disney World, Busch Gardens and other amusement parks.
“I use Disney a lot for an example because Disney controls their pedestrian traffic,” he said. “They have you walk where they want you to walk for very good reasons, and there’s no reason why schools can’t do the same thing.”
Athena, Yurjevich’s 11th grader, said she thinks about school shootings all the time. “I feel that I’m not safe being at school with threats going on all the time,” the 17-year-old said. “It makes me upset and not want to go to school, just to find out that I could be just another number… That could be me. That could be my friends or teachers.”
Athena recounted a school threat she experienced at Cypress Lake this year while she was in Spanish class.
“We didn’t know if there was someone in the building,” she said. “Everyone was scared.”
Athena said she does not mind having to take out her laptop and metal water bottle when she comes to school each morning. She had to do it at her previous school.
“And, honestly, I felt more safe when I was at that school because I felt more secure,” she said. “And I felt that I could actually learn better because I didn’t have anxiety about what could happen next, if there was a school shooting and somebody threatening our school or the schools around us.”
This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com
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