U.S. Rep. Kay Granger believes there's a way to help make students safer while at school — metal detectors.
As soon as next week, Granger, R-Fort Worth, plans to file the "Securing Children in Schools Act," which would create a federal grant program to help pay for and install metal detectors at public elementary, middle and high schools.
"When we decided to make airports safe from armed terrorists, we installed metal detectors and dramatically increased safety," she said. "It's time we did the same thing for our schools."
Granger stresses that her proposal — one of many being suggested by elected officials — is just one step Congress can take to keep students safe at school.
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And she hopes it will prompt other legislators to propose additional safety measures as well.
"We have talked about gun control as long as I've been in Congress," Granger said, adding that those conversations have not led to a solution.
So Granger, a former teacher, said she tried to find something that could at least help make schools safer.
Metal detectors are "something you can do, and something you can do quickly, that won't cure everything but it makes a difference still," she said. "It was very effective with airports."
Granger's plan drew quick criticism from some, such as Vanessa Adia, the Democrat running against her this year.
"After 12 days of silence following the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, Rep. Granger has chosen to break her silence by proposing a school safety bill that fails to actually address the gun violence problem impacting this country," Adia said. "The logistics and expense of installing metal detectors at schools across the nation is untenable and would create a learning environment predicated on fear."
At the same time, others say they are glad leaders are looking at ways to keep students safe.
"Our most important job, is to educate children," Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner said. "But we must provide a safe and secure learning environment for them and our employees. There is no one approach nor one solution to providing that security.
"Experts tell us the best form of security is that which is layered. So we are open to all ideas that will help us wrap our children in multiple levels of protection."
Granger proposes a bill that would provide $500 million in federal grant money over the next decade to help schools across the country buy metal detectors. The average cost for one metal detector can be thousands of dollars.
To receive funding, schools would submit safety plans that would identify where metal detectors would be placed and how access to and from the building would be limited.
If Congress works swiftly, the program could be in place — and grant money could be sent to schools — later this year, Granger said.
Schools would have to pick up the cost of providing someone to monitor the metal detectors.
"Almost all the schools have police in their schools or maybe not the entire time, but a police officer assigned to a school," who could help with that work, Granger said.
She noted that large campuses with multiple entryways might need "a barrier," such as fence, around the campus perimeter to direct students and teachers to a few main entryways.
"Some people say there will be lines, they'll have to stand outside forever," Granger said. "I said they don't do that at the airports. When they put metal detectors at the airports, the planes took off at the same time. People got there earlier. They planned that."
There are metal detectors and other safety measures at various Fort Worth school facilities, but officials declined to say how many detectors or what security measures are being used.
When asked whether metal detectors will keep students safe, Granger said "it will help (but) it's not the total answer."
Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald met with Granger to talk about the plan and said he was encouraged by it.
"Any proposal seeking to reinforce the sense of safety and security for our students is a welcomed change to the status quo," he said. "Our officers will do their part by becoming more proactive partners with the school district security, but conversations with Dr. Scribner on active shooter training and hardening of targets have been at the forefront of our minds.
"We tasked patrol officers with conducting frequent physical 'school checks' in their beats, with the hope of deterring these types of attacks. It is reassuring to know ... Kay Granger is taking the lead at the national level."
Meanwhile, local school trustees have mixed reactions.
Fort Worth school board president Tobi Jackson said Granger's plan is worth studying.
"This is a potential solution which local state and federal experts must investigate thoroughly and with immediacy," Jackson said. "We must take action to keep our schools and their occupants safe and devoid of fear, today and into the future.
"Any solutions that we undertake will only be a single step and this violence upon our campuses is an issue which we must continue to study, so that it is stopped."
Ashley Paz, a Fort Worth school board member, questioned if the plan is far-reaching enough.
"There is no evidence to support the theory that metal detectors could prevent a mass shooting," Paz said. "On it’s face this appears to be a quick solution to a complex problem, and quick solutions are rarely the most effective."
Jacinto Ramos, another Fort Worth school board member, said finding solutions to school safety also means including young people in the conversation.
"The most important aspect of any discussion and solution is going to be our students," Ramos said. "... one thing we should learn from Florida is that our students and children must be part of the discussion and solution process. They know what is going on in their schools in ways we might not see. We need to ensure they are part of this and that they believe in the solutions. They are depending on us and we cant afford to let them down."
Adia said Granger's plan simply isn' t the right approach.
"We need more than a prison-like school environment to protect our children," said Adia, a teacher at Benbrook Middle-High School. "As a current public school teacher who understands the day to day realities of life in our schools, I know that we must look at all the tools available to us to address our students’ needs. It is past time we recognize we can both uphold constitutional rights and implement commonsense gun reform.”
Kristen Ariola, the mother of a Paschal student, said adding metal detectors to elementary and middle schools appears more realistic because there aren't as many entry points as at high schools.
“I am open to all options that will increase safety at schools," said Ariola, who's child is organizing a March For Our Lives event in Fort Worth on March 24. "However, I think there needs to be a comprehensive plan where teachers, police and administrators really give their input.
“At a high school, are you going to have a metal detector at every door?”
Granger's plan comes at a time when President Donald Trump and others have supported the idea of arming teachers with guns as a way to prevent school shootings.
Many educators have pushed back, saying they want to be armed with books and less curriculum, but not guns.
Granger said she wouldn't have wanted to have to carry a gun to school every day when she was teaching.
"I wanted to teach," she said. "You teach and reach out and help kids. But carrying a gun, that's not the responsibility of the teachers and I don't think that's a helpful idea.
"It should be (left to) those who are trained and their job is to keep people safe," she said. "The teachers, their job is to teach."
Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley