GREENACRES, Fla. — Palm Beach County students at four high schools had a new first day of school experience on Thursday: walking through metal detectors.
It's a pilot program at John I. Leonard High School, Seminole Ridge Community High School, Palm Beach Lakes Community High School, and Palm Beach Gardens Community High School that, if successful, could expand to the rest of the high schools and potentially middle schools in the district.
John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres is the largest high school in Palm Beach County with about 3,200 students. The principal said getting them all through metal detectors on the first day of school went really well.
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In between the hustle and bustle of the first day, students at John I. Leonard High School seemed more concerned about finding their classrooms than walking through metal detectors.
"I'm fine with them," student Jennifer Montelus said. "It's just the extra sense of protection a lot of parents want and a lot of students need."
"We feel the technology and the timing of it is right now. I believe that," principal Dr. Jesus Armas said.
Armas told WPTV he's happy to have this extra layer of security.
"The lines were not long and we had kids into class relatively quickly. We feel good moving forward that the kids will get the hang of it and there won't be any lines or delays," Armas said.
WPTV Chopper 5 captured video of students going through metal detectors at Palm Beach Gardens Community High School and Palm Beach Lakes Community High School as well, all part of a pilot program.
"We're going to keep piloting and working through it, but we're really optimistic. Looks like that it's going to work out nicely," Superintendent Mike Burke told WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind.
"You get in line, you take out your Chromebook — because it's something that sets off the metal detector — and you go through," student Angelica Mejia said.
As students and staff continue to fine tune the process, many tell WPTV a little delay or inconvenience is worth it to feel a little bit safer.
"I know it's for the best because you never know what's out there," Mejia said.
"It's not something where they need to empty out their pockets all the time," Armas said. "So we feel it's not intrusive at all on students. But at the same time, provides an extra layer of safety."
Armas, one of the four Palm Beach County principals who volunteered to be a part of the pilot program, said metal detectors are just one piece of the ongoing efforts to keep students and staff members safe.
"We have a comprehensive safety plan that includes multiple layers, and there is no one catch all. Metal detectors are not a catch all," Armas said. "But certainly it is augmenting what we already have in place. And we feel that we will always continue to look at what we are doing and continue to tweak, to improve, and get stronger so our students can have the best, safest learning experience."
Palm Beach County School Board member Alexandria Ayala, a graduate of John I. Leonard High School herself, said the process Thursday morning was seamless.
"Students knew what to do. It was quick and easy in getting in," Ayala said, adding that "we wanted to make sure everyone knew what to expect. Students were told to put their backpacks in the front — so we know the contents in the bag — and take out their laptops."
Superintendent Burke told WPTV they may add a fourth metal detector John I. Leonard High School at the principal's request to move things along even faster.
The Palm Beach County School Board is expected to decide whether to implement the metal detectors across all high schools in the coming months.