By Mike Dea
Every morning students walk into school and pass through the doors, knowing an alarm will sound a dismissal from the school and an immediate suspension…
This is the typical experience of almost every student in the School District of Philadelphia.
Every public school is required to have metal detectors at the entrance of their school buildings. They are put in place to prevent students from carrying knives, guns, or other weapons into the school and possibly hurting their peers or themselves.
Science Leadership Academy is a rare exception to the rule. The school negotiated to have a building without the metal detectors.
In an interview with Engineering and Science Teacher Matthew VanKouwenberg, he explained how difficult it was for SLA to remain without metal detectors. “From the very beginning, TFI (The Franklin Institute) has had to use their social and political capital to prevent the institution of metal detectors.”
However, violence in the city remains an issue, which makes traveling to and from school an issue. For students at SLA, this situation can be a special concern, since many students make long commutes with multiple transfers in many different neighborhoods.
Senior Natalie Sanchez said that though she commutes via SEPTA rarely, when she does “It takes about half an hour to 45 minutes to get to school,” during which time she needs to travel through some of the more unpleasant neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
She isn’t the only student facing this challenge. This story is similar for those of the SLA student body who live in the depths of South Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, Northeast Philadelphia and other neighborhoods that don’t border Center City.
In the minds of some students, their self-defense is the most important thing, willing to risk the weapon’s discovery and the subsequent suspension, if not expulsion. A recent suspension along these lines lead SLA administration to iniate a school-wide discussion about safety.
Mr. Lehmann addressed the student body Thursday, October 27th, dissuading SLA students from bringing weapons to school, as it would require radical changes in SLA operating policy.
“We understand that neighborhoods are getting more dangerous,” Mr. Lehmann conceded, “but that doesn’t mean you can bring weapons with you to school.”
Mr. Lehmann went on to talk about how, if students continued to bring weapons to school, then there would have to be changes in SLA’s day to day functioning, such as the institution of metal detectors and bag checks.
“I think one of the most important things is I need to feel trusted in a working space, and asking kids the first thing they do everyday is walk through a metal detector sends a powerful message to kids that they aren’t trusted” Lehmann said in an interview with reporter Sam Lovett-Perkins.
However, if repeat incidents such as the one that happened the week of Oct. 16th do occur, then metal detectors will become a part of the SLA daily life.
Mr. VK reinforced this point in his interview, stating that between the “incident a while back and the recent incident, it will probably take only one more before metal detectors are instituted at SLA.”