Manassas City School Board is considering installing a weapons detection system at Osbourn High School but decided last week to delay a final vote after several board members voiced reservations about the system’s effectiveness and its possible impacts on students.
The City of Manassas school board, which has just one high school, is considering leasing four “Evolv Express” lanes with “situational awareness” cameras for Osbourn High. The security system would be leased for four years at a cost of $435,735, according to school division records.
The Evolv Express detectors are different than traditional metal detectors in that they operate 10 times faster and require no stopping, emptying of pockets or removing bags, according to the company’s website.
The system is “touchless” and uses “sensors and artificial intelligence to distinguish everyday items from weapons as people are screened,” the Evolv website says.
The speed of the system and its ease of use is key because more than 2,000 Osbourn High students would have to walk through the checkpoints each day in a span of just 15 minutes, said Andy Hawkins, Manassas City Public Schools’ executive director of finance and operations.
The Evolv Express checkpoints would be placed inside the entrances of Osbourn High and would not require any physical changes to the school. The checkpoints would connect to the Internet from their own servers and require only electricity to operate, Hawkins said.
“This is the least intrusive method that we have right now for students to be able to come through freely with the least amount of trauma that we can provide with the technology that’s available at this time,” Hawkins said during the board’s Nov. 8 meeting.
Osbourn High students would have to be trained to go through the checkpoints to reduce false alarms. For example, students would be advised to carry their backpacks and possibly hold their laptops rather than having them in book bags when they walk through the checkpoints, Hawkins said.
If a security hit occurs, a student would be diverted to a “resolution table” where school staff, not security guards, would assist the student, Hawkins said.
The sensitivity level of the device is adjustable, Hawkins said, which would allow staff to keep detection levels lower to minimize false alarms or to increase them to the highest setting in the case of an identified threat, such as a troubling social media post.
During the school board’s Nov. 8 meeting, members discussed the benefits of the detection systems while weighing the anxiety or trauma that walking through such checkpoints might cause for Osbourn High students, some of whom are as young as 14.
Board member Jill Spall said she was excited about the idea because she wants to protect teachers and students but has concerns about the stress caused by being pulled aside or detained at the resolution desk over a false alarm.
“From my experience over this last year, we do not have a gun problem at Osbourn or Manassas City Public Schools. We do have a nationwide mass shooting problem. There’s no question about it,” Spall said, adding: “I’m happy to have this [decision] delayed because I do not think that we have a problem in our schools, and so I don’t want it to look like we do.”
Board member Carl Hollingsworth said he considers the idea a “no-brainer,” explaining that he is in favor of an “extra layer of security” for students and faculty. He also noted that people can adapt to new security protocols just like airline travelers have.
The school board decided to do more research regarding the effectiveness of the Evolv Express systems by possibly visiting a school in Dorchester County, Maryland that already uses the Evolv checkpoints.
The school board also plans to gather information on the psychological or emotional impacts students could experience as a result of attending a school equipped with weapon detectors.
No Prince William County schools currently utilize weapon detection systems.
The Evolv Express systems have been installed at more than 200 schools and at 70 hospitals, stadiums, performing arts centers, places of worship and theme parks across the country. The systems have been credited with stopping more than 100,000 weapons from entering those places, according to an Evolv news release.
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