A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Superintendent says metal detectors will be installed at Frederick Douglass High School

Stationary metal detectors will be installed as soon as possible at Frederick Douglass High School and all students will be required to pass through them daily, Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk said today after a student at the school accidentally shot himself in the hand during first period.

“This is something we must do,” Caulk said, “Speaking as a parent and a father, our families entrust their children to us and expect them to come here and learn at high levels. Students cannot learn at high levels if they’re not safe and if they don’t feel safe. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure our students are safe.”

Caulk said he had directly charged Fayette County Public Schools Department of Law Enforcement Chief Martin Schafer and Chief of High Schools Randy Peffer with implementing fixed metal detectors as quickly as possible. He acknowledged it won’t be in place when students return to campus Monday.

“I know fixed metal detectors are not a failsafe, but it’s a part of a larger strategy we are implementing. When students come to school we need to ensure that they are not bringing contraband or anything that will not aid in their learning,” Caulk said. “And I think it’s the appropriate strategy here. The building here lends itself more easily to that strategy because it’s a self-contained building with a secure entry.”

The fixed metal detectors will add to the measures we already have implemented over the last two weeks and may expand to other campuses as well, Caulk said. “This is the next step. I understand the frustration. When you send your children to school you expect them to be safe and you expect them to learn in an environment where these things don’t happen.”

Prior to the announcement, a 16-year-old Frederick Douglass High School freshman was charged with possession of a weapon on school property and wanton endangerment after accidentally shooting himself in the hand with a pocket-sized handgun.

No other students or staff were injured.

Fayette County Public Schools Department of Law Enforcement Officers responded within seconds and had the situation under control. At Douglass, law enforcement officers have offices throughout the building and were just outside the classroom door when the single shot went off.

The incident happened during the morning announcements while students were in their advisory classes. The student had the gun in his pocket and shot himself in the finger. The student suffered non-life threatening injuries and was transported to the University of Kentucky Medical Center for treatment.

Officers quickly contained the scene and students who were in the classroom at the time were taken to another location in the building to speak with law enforcement officials and counselors. Fayette County Public Schools Department of Law Enforcement officers are investigating the matter with assistance from the Lexington Police Department. The Lexington Fire Department and Federal Bureau of Investigations also responded to assist.
The incident was isolated and there were no other threats in the building.

“I want to commend our law enforcement officers, teachers, staff, students and leadership here at FDHS,” Caulk said. “This unfortunate incident is becoming all too common. What’s happening in our community is spilling over into our schools.”

On February 22, Caulk held a press conference announcing seven immediate steps the district would be making to address student safety, including enhancements to tip lines, additional personnel to monitor school entrances, and the addition of hand-held metal detector wands.

He also established a District Safety Advisory Council to examine best practices in school safety and develop specific recommendations to ensure all Fayette County Public Schools are safe places to learn and work.

If school district officials and the Advisory Council decide that stationary metal detectors would benefit schools, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said he would ask the city council to provide funds.

The Council is comprised of 26 students, teachers, parents, principals, district officials, Lexington-Fayette Urban County representatives, community advocates, law enforcement officers, business representatives and faith leaders.

The Advisory Council met last night to discuss juvenile justice issues and heard presentations from Rachel Bingham, Executive Officer, and Elton Terry, Regional Supervisor, with the Department of Family & Juvenile Services, Heather Matics, Assistant County Attorney with the Fayette County Attorney’s Office and Judge Elizabeth “Libby” Green Messer, with the Fayette County Family Court.

“We heard last night from our experts about the increase of gun violence among juveniles in our community and the fact that there is a lack of infrastructure to support our young people,” Caulk said. “Some of the students and families we serve are in crisis and we have neighborhoods in distress.”

The Advisory Council will work during the month of March and develop a white paper with recommendations no later than the first week of April. Caulk said the district will move forward with metal detectors at Frederick Douglass while the council continues its work. The council may recommend the addition of fixed metal detectors at other schools.

While the council is studying safety at the district level during March, Caulk has encouraged student voice teams, PTSAs and other family and community groups to have conversations about specific things they can do at their school to enhance safety, as well as broader recommendations for the district.

The increased focus on school safety comes at the same time the General Assembly is considering bills that would shift pension costs to school districts and significantly cut education funding.

Caulk urged leaders at the state level in Kentucky to fully fund education and invest in school safety improvements and mental health services. He noted that Florida Governor Scott and the Republican-led Legislature are considering significant school safety measures, Alabama Governor Ivey has established a School Safety task force in her state, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a bipartisan group of 21 other senators have announced support for a bill funding school security improvements, early intervention and prevention programs aimed at stopping school violence.

“What you don’t see is that same leadership at the highest levels here in Kentucky,” Caulk said. “It is imperative that the leaders of the Commonwealth begin serious discussion about juvenile justice reform, school safety measures and adequate funding for mental health services.”

From Fayette County Public Schools

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