Atlanta school leaders say new weapons detection system a big upgrade

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

New scanners for middle and high schools cost $2.6 million

A new weapons detection system has streamlined the morning routine and made Atlanta schools feel safer, according to students and district staff.

Atlanta Public Schools agreed in August to spend $2.6 million on new Evolv Technology scanners — the same technology that visitors pass through to enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Lenox Square mall. The scanners are now in all of the district’s middle and high schools.

APS police Chief Ronald Applin said the new system is more efficient and less invasive than previous screening that has been in place at least since 2016, when he joined the district.

“The previous system required teachers or administrators to check almost every bag” because all sorts of objects would trigger the machines, he said. That often caused long lines into schools, Applin said.

Maynard Jackson High School Principal Adam Danser acknowledged that a slow system could start the day on a negative foot for students. “Waiting in a line and emptying pockets and all that, you might feel a little disgruntled, like when you go through an airport,” Danser said.

As students entered Jackson High School Tuesday morning, most passed through the gray scanners resembling the twin tail fins of an F-18 without stopping. Students removed laptops before they passed, and the occasional student who caused lights in the tips of the scanners to flash red stepped to the side for a brief check — usually a sports bag or instrument case that needed a quick second look.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Anil Chitkara, a co-founder of Evolv Technology, said the systems are in arenas, casinos, hospitals, museums and increasingly schools. As shootings in schools continue to occur, districts are also reporting more instances of weapons since returning from pandemic shutdowns, Chitkara said. In Georgia, there were 195 cases statewide in which a student was disciplined for bringing a handgun to school in the 2021-22 school year, nearly three times as many as in 2014-15, according to data from the Georgia Department of Education. APS had 34 cases last school year, according to the data.

“There’s more anxiety, and we’ve seen a lot of schools that are now looking at how to create safer learning environments,” Chitkara said.

Evolv Technology has systems in 200 schools. In Georgia, the company is in Atlanta and Clarke County schools.

Scanners and metal detectors are among safety measures implemented or under consideration in metro Atlanta. Clayton County Schools announced plans to install metal detectors this school year in its middle and high schools, along with requiring clear backpacks.

Gwinnett County Superintendent Calvin Watts has said on multiple occasions that Georgia’s largest school district has considered adding weapons detection, drawing a mix of reactions. Students and activists opposed to the measure in Gwinnett have said they would make it seem as if their school is unsafe and said the focus should be on systemic issues related to access to weapons.

Multiple APS employees said they haven’t seen opposition to weapons detection. Applin said the system is an important deterrent, avoiding situations in which a student may have to report a peer.

Two members of Jackson’s student government agreed the system made them feel safer. They also didn’t recall any major incidents involving a weapon in their school.

“It doesn’t matter what the area around a school is, somebody can always try to bring a weapon in, somebody can have bad intentions,” Taylor DeBarr, a senior, said. “I think even if some people think it creates a negative connotation around a school, it’s more about keeping students safe.”

Leila Burgess-Kattoula, also a senior, added, “Taking these extra precautions seriously fosters a safe environment.”