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Columbia Public Schools rolls out weapons detection systems at Hickman High School


Columbia Public Schools is using summer school to get accustomed to its new weapons detection systems.

In an email sent out to parents, summer school principal Atah Knighten said stating that all students going to Hickman High School for summer school will pass through the weapons detection system at the start of the day from Monday until the end of school on Wednesday.

This includes students from both Hickman and Rock Bridge High School, due to construction happening over the summer.

CPS approved the purchase of Opengate weapons detection systems in April. The district purchased 15 units, which will be located at all three high schools when school is back in session this fall.

The systems, provided by Communications Technologies Inc., can detect guns, knives, brass knuckles and razor blades while ignoring everyday objects such as keys, cellphones and jewelry. The system is also capable of detecting vapes.

Knighten said the weapons detection system will be placed inside the main entrances of the building. It is designed to detect weapons without slowing the flow of traffic into the building.

"We are implementing the system prior to the start of the 2024-2025 school year will allow our teams time to learn the system and improve operations before all students return in the fall," Knighten wrote in the email to parents.

He said administrators and members of CPS' safety and security team are monitoring the systems to ensure it runs smoothly.

CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said the weapons detection systems were first used at Battle High School at the beginning of summer school for training and are now being tested at Hickman.

Hickman high school senior and president of Students for Change, Karli Jones, said these systems have the potential to be what is necessary for student safety.

She said while it is still in the early stages, she has heard from students at Battle High School that the systems are causing some slight disruptions in the morning. She hopes the district spots any issues and is able to make changes before the start of the school year.

"What needs to be the focus going into something like this is maintaining normality in a school environment," Jones said. "I don't want this to feel like a prison, I don't want students to feel unsafe more than they already do, so I'm hoping that this is just seamless and something that becomes part of our routine."

Information provided by Baumstark describes the weapons detection systems as a walk-through system with two freestanding pillars. The pillars are able to moved and can be used at different entrances or events.

If the towers turn green, no threat has been detected. If they turn red and sound, a threat has been detected and that person will have to get a secondary screening, where a member of the security team will check that person's belongings.

Jones said she is glad to see CPS take this step toward student safety.

"Student voices need to be the main voice in the topic of school security because we see things that the adults in the room don't see," Jones said. "So, I really just hope that they continue to listen to students and continue to make improvements based on what we need and what keeps us safe."

Baumstark said the systems will be fully in place in the fall when all three high schools are back in session.

People will not have to remove things while walking through the detectors except for some laptops, umbrellas and notebooks, which can cause the detector to alert. Due to this, students are no longer able to bring in zip-up binders or notebooks.

The systems do not use facial recognition.

A meeting agenda in the spring showed CPS was paying $260,726 for the systems, which was covered by capital project funding and included staff training.

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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