Philly Schools to Screen Middle Schoolers for Guns, Weapons

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Sixth to eighth grade students in middle and elementary schools in the Philadelphia School District will be subject to weapons screenings as they arrive to class starting next week.

NBC10 obtained Thursday a letter that was sent home to public school parents and school families that details the new plan. The letter was sent after some recent incidents involving guns and middle schoolers at or near schools.

"We very rarely, if ever, have guns in our K to 8 schools and this year alone we've had at least two incidents where guns have actually been in our schools," Chief of School Safety Kevin Bethel said. "Another incident where a child was out of school, two blocks away, shooting a gun."

The school district said screenings begin on Monday, May 9, 2022, at six schools in the district where sixth to eighth graders will be subject to hand wand or mobile metal detector checks -- similar to what people are subjected to in airports -- as they arrive to school. The students also could have their bags and backpacks inspected.

School safety officers will conduct the screenings and searches with "at least one school leader" present, the district said.

"Screenings will take place at six schools per day, and be conducted at every middle and elementary school with middle grades at least once before the end of the school year," the district said in its letter.

Bethel said they initially plan on random screenings at around 100 schools and will return to schools that ask for a second round of screenings.

High schoolers in the district have faced metal detectors and screenings for years. The screening of younger children, however, could be met with trepidation.

"The District understands that this level of screening may feel intrusive and inconvenient," the letter said.

"Checking kids for weapons with guns in schools ... it's a thing," father Kevin Taylor said. "But, at the same time, you hope that the little kids wouldn't even touch something like that."

The goal of the screening program is track down more than just guns.

"According to District Policy 218.1, a weapon is defined as, but is not limited to, firearms, whether loaded or not; pellet or BB gun; knives; cutting instruments; nunchaku; brass knuckles; electronic shock devices; or mace and any other tool, instrument, or object used or intended to be used to inflict serious bodily injury to another," the letter said.

Any weapons found will be confiscated and students with a firearm will be referred to Philadelphia police, the district said.

"Students will be given an opportunity to dispose of any illegal or inappropriate items prior to being screened without consequence," the letter said. "Students who choose not to participate in screening will be referred to the school’s leadership."

Bethel said that they don't want to traumatize any children, but rather educate families. The hope is that parents and guardians check their children's bags before they leave for school in the first place.

There are additional resources for people or communities that have endured gun violence in Philadelphia. Further information can be found here.

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