Volusia School Board delays vote on random screenings without cause once more

News-Journal | By Mary Ellen Ritter | May 15, 2024

DELAND — For the second time this year, the Volusia County School Board Tuesday postponed amending the Student Code of Conduct and Discipline, which would have allowed random screenings without cause on school sites.

The board voted to advertise this amendment at its April 9 meeting, and Superintendent Carmen Balgobin recommended adopting the proposed amendment at Tuesday’s meeting, according to its agenda.

However, board member Ruben Colón requested the board postpone making a decision following the senior prank at DeLand High School which involved toilet-papering, plastic-wrapping and spray-painting parts of the campus early Monday morning.

“In light of our recent events, I think our code of student conduct does not address vandalism and things that are a result of senior pranks, and so I think this is something that we need to definitely take a serious look at,” Colón said. “And so I’m going to kindly ask that we table that for a future date, so that we could provide input on those changes.”

Anita Burnette made a motion to approve Colón’s request. Carl Persis seconded the motion, which passed with a 4-1 vote. Board Chair Jamie Haynes opposed.

“The reason why I voted ‘nay’ is we have, within the code of conduct, we already have a discipline piece, and it states what the consequences are, so I think that if we use that discipline piece and the consequences, this could be handled,” Haynes said.

What would random screenings look like in Volusia County Schools?

At the board’s March workshop, Patty Corr, Volusia’s chief operating officer, said that a computerized random generator would first select a school and then a classroom within that school. A district team would visit the selected school and work with its administration to set up a metal detector and conduct the screenings.

Additionally, at that March meeting, Corr said, “If a student is identified to have a weapon, it gives us the opportunity to determine why and address it before it goes too far.”

Do other Florida school districts conduct random screenings, searches?

At the board’s March workshop, Capt. Todd Smith, director of safety and security for the district, noted that 14 Florida counties use metal detectors for random screenings: Bay; Brevard; Broward; Escambia; Hendry; Hillsborough; Indian River; Lee; Leon; Manatee; Miami-Dade; Orange; Osceola; and Seminole.

“They do it randomly. I don’t know if they use the exact random randomizer (as ours in) the way that we’ve set it up,” Smith said at the March workshop.

The News-Journal reached out to all public school districts represented in Smith’s list to see how exactly they implement random screenings and/or searches in their district.

  • Bay District Schools told The News-Journal that it does not conduct random screenings with metal detectors.
  • Brevard County School District does not use metal detectors in its traditional schools, according to Russell Bruhn, the district’s chief strategic communications officer, who said he could not speak for the district’s charter schools. When asked if Brevard Public Schools has implemented random screenings in its traditional schools using devices other than metal detectors, Russell said “no” in an email.
  • Broward County Public Schools started using handheld metal detectors in August 2022, according to the district’s explainer video. Similar to Volusia, a computerized tool selects a school and classroom randomly, and all students, as well as their belongings, in the selected classroom are scanned, according to the video. Additionally, “Broward County Public Schools is preparing for the launch of a pilot program this summer for using walk-through metal detectors in high schools as part of a weapons detection program,” according to a district press release. The pilot will take place at two district high schools “and will allow security staff to refine implementation processes before expanding the safety initiative to eight additional schools in the 2024/25 school year.”
  • Escambia County Public Schools has implemented random detecting for about five years, and a new weapon/metal detection system was introduced in the last month, according to Kyle Kinser, the district’s director of protection services, school and safety specialist. Kinser said in an email that school administration randomly selects classes, and all students present get screened. There is no minimum or maximum number of times a student may be screened. Additionally, Kinser noted that patrons at extracurricular events are screened for prohibited items.
  • Hendry County School District did not respond, despite multiple attempts from The News-Journal.
  • Hillsborough County Public Schools has been conducting random metal detection searches in middle and high schools for over a decade, according to Tanya Arja, the district’s chief of communications. Searches require students to walk through a standing metal detection device or security officers will use a handheld wand. A few classrooms at each school will be randomly selected to participate, and all students in those classrooms will be part of the search.
  • The School District of Indian River County does not conduct random screenings, and instead, all high school students walk through metal detectors on their campuses every morning, according to Cristen Maddux, the district’s public information officer.
  • Lee County Schools did not respond, despite multiple attempts from The News-Journal.
  • Leon County School District did not respond, despite multiple attempts from The News-Journal.
  • The School District of Manatee County started using metal detectors for random screening at the start of the current school year, according to Michael Barber, the district’s director of communications. “After firearms were recovered on some of our school campuses we decided to deploy the machines randomly in high schools switching schools every week and all students are screened at the schools with the machine deployed. Process is that all students enter through predesignated entry points at arrival times,” Barber said in an email.
  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools confirmed receipt of The News-Journal’s request for comment, but did not provide any additional information.
  • Orange County Public Schools conducts random weapon screenings bi-weekly, and district police conduct additional random weapon screenings in all middle and high school classrooms, according to David Ocasio, the district’s assistant director of media relations. The district has implemented hand-held metal detectors at all middle and high school levels since 2018, Ocasio said in an email. The randomization process is executed by using an Excel spreadsheet, he added.
  • Osceola County School District told The News-Journal that the New Beginnings Education Center, where students go in lieu of expulsion, is the only school that conducts daily wand searches of all students as they arrive on campus. “Of course, we have done random searches whenever we feel there is a need,” said Dana Schafer, the district’s public information officer, in an email. “I believe that our school board will be having a discussion to consider procedures for possibly doing random searches in our secondary schools on a schedule starting in the fall. At this time, they haven’t had that discussion yet.”
  • Seminole County Public Schools does not use metal detectors, according to Katherine Crnkovich, the district’s communications officer. “Because this is part of our safety procedures, we cannot share specific details, however, we do have K9 detection officers who assist with random searches,” Crnkovich said in an email.
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