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Detroit To Use Metal Detectors

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In an effort to prevent students from bringing weapons into schools, the Detroit Board of Education has voted to install permanent metal detectors at the main entrances to most of its high schools and to routinely search the belongings of students and visitors entering the buildings.

Metal detectors have been used occasionally in a few other urban school districts, but Detroit is believed to be the first district in the nation to mandate their use on a large scale.

In addition to passing through the detectors, students and visitors to the school will be required to submit to a search of their belongings in two classrooms set aside for the purpose--one for males and one for females.

The board is currently studying whether teachers and staff members will also be required to submit to the searches, a move that is opposed by local teachers' unions, said Richard Levy, a spokesman for the board.

The board voted to purchase 45 standing metal detectors, similar to those used in airports, at a total cost of $140,000, according to Mr. Levy. The first units are expected to arrive and be installed shortly, and all should be in place by mid-January.

The details of where the detectors will be placed and who will staff them have yet to be decided.

Mr. Levy said the district expects to encounter logistical difficulties--such as delays in clearing all of the students through the detectors--but will develop remedies once the system is in place.

The board voted to install permanent metal detectors and institute regular searches, according to the spokesman, because members felt that would be a more effective deterrent than the random search policy under which the Detroit system has operated since December 1984.

He said the board was "willing to take the negative heat" that could result from its decision.

Mr. Levy said stronger measures to assure school safety were needed because there is "a terrible problem with the preponderance of guns in the surrounding community."

He added that although only one weapon had been discharged within a school in the past two years, the climate of violence in the surrounding community had not diminished significantly.

"Increased security is a fact of life in almost every public office in Detroit," said Mr. Levy. "Why should schools be any different?"

Howard Simon, executive director of the Detroit chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said board members acted because they "had to send a message to the community that they're doing something about the problem."

School safety has become an important issue in city politics in Detroit since Mayor Coleman A. Young proposed stricter security standards a year ago.

It is not clear whether the board's vote will affect this month's first federal-court hearing on an aclu challenge to the constitutionality of the district's policy of conducting mass searches.--ws

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