School metal detectors sadly needed here and now


Many longtime Vero Beach residents fondly recall the small-town years when bar stabbings, road-rage shootings and prostitution stings happened somewhere else.

There was no wee-hour gun play at a family-oriented beach, or anti-Semitic messages left on people’s driveways, or death threats made against School Board members.

We certainly didn’t need metal detectors at the entryways of our public schools to prevent students from bringing guns on to campus.

Now we do.

Exactly a week ago, in fact, the parents of Vero Beach High School students were notified that, starting the next morning, portable metal detectors would be placed at the building’s main entryways.

The detectors were installed last Friday, four days after a school resource deputy found a loaded Glock .380-caliber handgun in the bookbag of an 18-year-old senior, Martrez Antonio Barnes, who was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm on school property.

The gun was discovered shortly before classes began two Mondays ago, when a school official found several students in a restroom, where they were suspected of vaping. The students were taken to an administrator’s office, where a deputy searched their bags.

Fortunately, there was no evidence that Barnes intended to cause harm at the school. But this episode marked the third time in just over a year that a student brought a gun onto campus.

School Superintendent David Moore responded swiftly to the latest incident, contacting the Sheriff’s Office and requesting that metal detectors be implemented as soon as possible.

The detectors had been purchased jointly by the school district and Sheriff’s Office at the beginning of the academic year, but weren’t delivered until later in the fall, when they were used at football games and other school events.

On Friday morning, though, the detectors were installed and activated at three student entryways to Vero Beach High School – from the bus gate, student parking lot and parents parking lot – with all other access to the building blocked.

It was the first time the district had used any such device to screen students as they arrived on campus.

“Unfortunately, we’re living in a time when such measures are necessary,” School Board Chair Teri Barenborg said.

School Board member Gene Posca did plenty of talking at the board’s meeting hours after the gun was found. Since winning the District 1 seat on the board in 2022, Posca has been a fierce advocate for tighter school security and has pushed hard for metal detectors.

He called each of the three most recent incidents of students bringing guns to school a “sentinel event,” and he said the board could no longer ignore the warning signs and wait for the necessary funding to take action.

“This, in my opinion, is an emergency,” Posca said. “It’s not a five-year plan.”

Apparently, Moore agreed.

He told Vero Beach 32963 last weekend that the district would – separate from the Sheriff’s Office – purchase three more of the portable metal detectors this week, pulling funds from other parts of his budget.

In all, the superintendent said the district, which currently has three devices, needs to buy a total of seven more metal detectors to secure both Vero Beach (including the Freshman Learning Center) and Sebastian River high schools.

Moore said the detectors cost $17,000 each, but, eventually, the district plans to install them at middle schools, too.

It’s money well spent.

Putting metal detectors in our schools isn’t only necessary – especially in Florida, where there is an abundance of guns, a state-issued permit is no longer required to carry firearms in a concealed manner and we have a stand-your-ground law – but it was inevitable.

Yes, even here.

The school district’s other security measures in place at our two public high schools include six school resource deputies, an upgraded camera system and the FortifyFL app that allows anyone to report suspicious activity to law enforcement agencies and school officials.

The resource deputies not only monitor the hallways, perform safety checks and engage with students, but, as Sheriff Eric Flowers told a television reporter in August 2022, they also have access to AR-15 assault rifles stored on campus.

Thus far, those measures have provided enough security to prevent the types of horrifying on-campus shootings we’ve seen in too many other places across America – including Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a lone gunman killed 17 people and wounded 17 others on Valentine’s Day 2018 – but they haven’t kept guns out of our schools.

Metal detectors will help.

“When I first saw the kids lined up to get through the metal detectors, I wanted to cry,” said School Board member Peggy Jones, a career educator and former Sebastian River High School principal. “But this is where we are. This is how it’s going to be.”

This is how it needs to be.

This isn’t the Vero Beach of yesteryear, when it felt as if we were sheltered from so much of the unpleasantness we saw on the evening news. More of the trouble that used to happen somewhere else now happens here, and we must be prepared for it. We can’t take school safety for granted.

We need those metal detectors.

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