Wichita school board approves weapons detection system for local high schools

The North LIttle Rock, Arkansas school district is using weapon-detection technology proposed...
The North LIttle Rock, Arkansas school district is using weapon-detection technology proposed for Wichita Public Schools.(KWCH)
Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 5:27 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update: The Wichita Public Schools Board of Education at its meeting Monday night unanimously approved spending $1.5 million for up to 50 Opengate devices that are meant to prevent weapons that can cause mass harm from getting into schools.

The move comes after five guns were found at Wichita high schools within the first two weeks of school. Wichita BOE President Stan Reeser said efforts prioritizing safety measures in the district began long before this school year and will be ongoing continually into the future.

“(We have) almost 50,000 students and over 9,000 employees that we have to keep safe every single day when they walk through our doors, and I will tell you, it’ is a heavy burden,” USD 259 Superintendent Dr. Alicia Thompson said. “You talk about a person not sleeping at nights, that was me and my team because we wanted to make sure that we were doing right by you.”

The district said it hopes to have the Opengate systems at each high school by the start of the second semester, but it can’t promise that due to shipping delays nationwide.

The Wichita Public Schools Board of Education is set to vote on measures to boost security at the district’s high schools. The discussion follows recent incidents of violence and five handguns taken from students on school grounds since school started about a month ago.

The school district released data that showed the number of weapons found at schools since the start of the 2017-18 school year. This includes a significant jump in the number of guns found since the start of last year, 2021-22.

The district is looking to add Opengate weapon detectors that are meant to prevent weapons that can cause mass harm from getting into schools. The district says it has been considering these devices since before these recent incidents. Still, some believe those situations indicate that more can be done.

“I think there should be at least some sort of security at all entrances, or they come in through one entrance,” said John Whitlock, a grandfather of children in Wichita Public Schools.

Last week, we traveled to North Little Rock, Arkansas, where the district has been using Opengate devices since the start of the school year.

“These things will catch pretty much everything. [Thursday] morning, I had to come in, I had to take off my sunglasses because I went through in and it beeped off,” said Jake Hale, a senior at North Little Rock High School.

The Opengate devices are meant to pick up large metal objects: guns, large knives and explosives, and provide more convenience than metal detectors. While it might seem like a hassle getting into school, NLRHS students say it makes the building feel safer.

“I’ve known people to come in with knives before. I didn’t say anything but it’s peace of mind. It helps me focus when I’m learning because I don’t have to think, ‘hey someone in the classroom has a knife,’” said Hale.

Whitlock says it’s also about relationships - from the principal on down - and parents knowing what their child is bringing to school.

“That’s very important, I had that growing up here in Wichita back in the 50s. She (the principal) was always there,” he said.

Wichita resident Wendetta Williams said it’s about making sure kids can go to school to learn and stay safe.

“If your child would even get hurt or even killed, that would be a lifetime of devastation. That’s something you’d never be able to shake,” she said.

At Monday’s meeting, the board is expected to approve $1.5 million for up to 50 Opengate weapon detectors. The goal is to place them at all the high schools in the district by end of the year.