The principal of Charlestown High School reintroduced metal detectors to the school Friday morning “out of an abundance of caution” after two students were found with loaded guns on Thursday, according to a Boston Public Schools spokesperson.
Two boys, ages 13 and 17, each were arrested at the high school Thursday afternoon and charged with illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition, according to the Suffolk district attorney’s office. Police say they’ve seized a total of 12 guns and 17 Tasers throughout Boston since the start of the school year.
Mayor Michelle Wu credited the “relationships between young people and the staff” at the school for helping to quickly address the gun incidents in a press conference Friday morning in Hyde Park.
“We are very grateful that the response was so quick and that the situation was identified before it went further in any direction, and that’s really thanks to the relationships between the young people and the staff there,” Wu said.
Both Wu and youth workers have repeatedly pointed to the social-emotional strain of the pandemic as one major source of the behavioral and discipline issues that have plagued schools in Boston and across the country.
“It is unfathomable and we cannot make it such that young people make decisions like this, that are dangerous for themselves and dangerous for the community,” Wu said. She added that trauma response teams were available at the school for any students struggling to cope with the incident.
The school district’s policy on metal detection devices states their use “should be based on incidents of weapons in the school or one serious incident,” according to the district’s most recent policy memo. The rationale for such usage must be set forth in writing and communicated to the entire school community, the memo states.
Charlestown is one of several middle and high schools in the district using metal detectors to screen students entering the building, but they have received mixed support from parents and faculty, who say detectors alone are unlikely to be a strong deterrent.
Thomas McKeever, spokesman for the union representing administrative staff in the Boston Public Schools, called detectors a necessary first step, but said the district could not stop there in its efforts to keep students and faculty safe.
“We are demanding that the district come up with a worker safety protocol, but our requests have fallen on deaf ears,” he said. “Security measures for the workers and the students need to be put in place, because it’s at a tipping point right now where no one feels safe.”
McKeever explained that even schools that have metal detectors do not use them consistently, and said he’s visited schools where detectors were “unplugged and pushed into the corner of the cafeteria,” gathering dust. He added that the situation has become too urgent to rely on metal detectors to keep guns out of schools, and called for more serious measures to be taken by the city.
“Guns, tasers, knives, and live ammunition are showing up at our schools across the district,” he said. “We have to do something more about it.”
Suleika Soto, a parent, also remains unconvinced that metal detectors alone are the answer.
“I don’t think metal detectors make me feel any better about my child’s safety, because most schools have side doors and other entrances,” said Soto, a mother of two and organizer at the Boston Education Justice Alliance. “If someone really wanted to get in and bring something with them, they could do it.”
Soto’s oldest child is a student at TechBoston Academy, which also has metal detectors. Soto attended the school herself when it was called Dorchester High School, and remembers students sneaking in and out of side doors all the time, without ever having to go through a metal detector.
“I remember the detectors were a thing at every school so we were used to it, but people always found ways to go around them,” she said. Instead of metal detectors, Soto said, communities and schools should partner to find ways to increase staff and resources at schools that struggle to keep weapons out.
“Obviously we want our children to feel safe at school, so it has to be an all-hands-on-deck, community effort to find adults that can build good relationships with students,” she said. “There needs to be more supervision and more adults working to understand why these kids feel the need to bring a gun to school.”
Each of the two students arrested at Charlestown High School Thursday was ordered held at their arraignments, which took place separately on Thursday and Friday in Boston Juvenile Court.
At his arraignment Friday, the 17-year-old was ordered held, pending a dangerousness hearing scheduled for June 1. The request for the hearing “was based on an existing open gun case pre-dating yesterday’s incident,” the district attorney’s office said.