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Weapons detectors are now ‘normal’ at Hunter High, but staffing remains an issue

Outside of Hunter High School in West Valley City, Utah, Nov. 29, 2023.
Martha Harris
Outside of Hunter High School in West Valley City, Utah, Nov. 29, 2023.

Granite School District is in its second school year of weapons detectors at Hunter High School — but it hasn’t been without its stops and starts. The machines were only used briefly at the end of last school year and were reinstalled after this school year started.

While the machines have achieved some level of normalcy in students’ daily lives, Principal Ryan Oaks told the district’s school board on Nov. 28 their biggest problem continues to be having enough security staffing.

The detectors use artificial intelligence and are the same type of machines the Salt Lake City School District started using in October. And like Salt Lake, the district did not hire its own full-time security for the pilot project. It also contracted with PalAmerican Security.

People walk through the weapons detectors at Highland High during the district’s open house, Oct. 10, 2023.
Martha Harris
People walk through the weapons detectors at Highland High during the Salt Lake School District’s open house, Oct. 10, 2023. The Salt Lake and Granite districts use detectors from the same company, Evolv.

Oaks told the board they have had “some hiccups” with the system this year, but he added those are mostly personnel-related.

As for the physical detectors, “That piece really has been streamlined,” he said.

The machines need to be manned by at least six guards, but according to Oaks, the private security company has been experiencing significant turnover. District chief of staff Ben Horsley told KUER they’re fully staffed about a third of the time. When they’re down security guards administrators fill in, which is not ideal.

“Our preference would be that they would be providing supervision in other areas of the building,” Horsley said.

If the system were permanent and the district hired its own guards, Horsley thinks they would have less turnover.

Granite School District has conducted three student and parent surveys about the detectors. In the latest survey, which was presented at the November board meeting, 45% of respondents agreed the system is working smoothly, 41% disagreed and 14% were unsure. When asked about the assertion that the system makes Hunter High a safer place, 48% agreed, 29% disagreed and 23% didn’t know.

The last big question was whether the district should continue using the weapons detectors through the remainder of the school year: 46% answered yes, 38% said no and 16% were unsure.

However, only about 200 people responded, with more students than parents, and Horsley said that they struggled to get people to take the latest survey.

Oaks theorizes they didn’t get more participation because it’s become routine.

“When something like that just becomes a part of daily life and it's kind of normalized, I don't think there is that extreme opinion either for or against. I just think it's kind of what we do,” he said.

Although, he’s not sure if that normalization is a good or bad thing.

Even with the staffing issues, Horsley thinks the weapons detectors have been an effective deterrent because they haven’t found a single weapon on Hunter High’s campus this year. Whereas, throughout the district, there have been 15 incidents of weapons on campus.

In 2022, a Hunter High student fatally shot two classmates and wounded another student near the school. While an investigation found there were two weapons on campus that day, Horsley said Hunter High was chosen for the pilot because of the design and infrastructure of the school.

The board received more updates on school security during the November meeting, but those were discussed during a closed session because of the district’s safety concerns.

While the district has leased the detectors until the end of the school year, Horsley said they are not sure how long the pilot program will last and that will be up to the board. If the pilot program concludes before the end of the school year, Horsley said they can use the machines in other ways and at other schools.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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