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Dade Backs Off Use of Detectors To Search Teachers for Weapons

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The Dade County, Fla., school board gave preliminary approval this month to a plan to use metal detectors beginning next fall to search students at random for weapons, but backed away from extending the policy to teachers and other school staff members.

Officials in the nation's fourth-largest school district, which includes Miami, said pressure from the local teachers' union and reluctance on the part of some board members contributed to the shelving of the proposal to search employees.

The board is expected to take a final vote by late next month after it hears recommendations on how to implement the plan, said Henry Fraind, the chief spokesman for the district.

One-Year Experiment

The searches, which won initial approval by a vote of 5 to 2, will take place in all of the district's 76 middle and high schools beginning in September on a one-year trial basis, Mr. Fraind said.

Two or three schools a day will be selected at random. Teams of security officers will either set up a checkpoint at an entrance or search students at random in hallways and classrooms.

The program is expected to cost about $250,000 a year, mostly for the salaries and benefits of eight new security officers, Mr. Fraind said.

Officials have seized 170 weapons from students this school year, and two students have been killed on school grounds, Mr. Fraind said.

The school board last month fired an 18-year veteran teacher after he was caught for a second time with a weapon on campus. Officials said that incident was not related to the proposal to search teachers.

'Totally Unacceptable'

Pat Tornillo, the executive vice president and chief negotiator for United Teachers of Dade, said the idea of searching school staff members was "totally unacceptable'' and "degrading.''

"These are professional people,'' he said.

Mr. Tornillo said he had told the board that the union, which is currently in negotiations on "all economic matters,'' would fight the idea both at the bargaining table and in court, if necessary.

In addition, Mr. Tornillo said he doubted the effectiveness of a random search of a small proportion of students each day.

Policy Defended

The head of the district's police department recommended to Octavio Visiedo, the superintendent, that the search policy be extended to teachers. Mr. Visiedo, in turn, forwarded the recommendation to the board.

The board member who proposed searching students, Robert Renick, said last week that the district may reconsider including its 17,000 teachers in searches "if given cause.''

Teachers he has spoken with "are saying that they don't mind, they feel more secure'' if everyone is subject to searches, Mr. Renick said.

"If all of the effort does nothing but persuade the one kid who was going to take a gun into a school not to do it, it's worth it,'' Mr. Renick said.

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