Districts turn to AI to keep guns out of schools

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As the number of guns found on school campuses kept increasing in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in the last academic year, district and school-level administrators considered adding safety approaches such as metal detectors and clear backpacks.

But it was on a trip to the Carolina Panthers football stadium that district Chief Operations Officer Brian Schultz realized what was missing in the district’s efforts to keep guns off school property. At the stadium, he noticed the ease of security screening for guests. 

Soon after Schultz’s visit, the district’s chief of police and board of education members visited the Panthers stadium to see the security screening in action.

The scanners from Evolv, a security technology company based in Massachusetts, use digital sensors and artificial intelligence to detect concealed weapons. Placed at entryways, they allow visitors to walk between columns connected to AI that can distinguish most everyday objects on a person from weapons. The technology takes a digital image of where on the person a weapon is located, such as in a pocket or in a backpack, and alerts staff of the threat.

Those who promote the technology say this AI-assisted screening is faster, less invasive and more accurate than traditional security screeners because it doesn’t require bag checks or body searches.

One of the main reasons the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district ultimately decided to install the technology in its schools is because of the quick screening time. High schools have about a half hour before the first class starts to filter thousands of students and staff through their doors. “We wanted to be able to stick to that so we weren’t impacting the instructional day,” Schultz said.

Like Charlotte-Mecklenburg, other districts are also exploring or adopting AI-assisted school security practices. But while some praise this approach, others have doubts and recommend caution.

“The alarm bells go off faster with each incident, especially if they’re in a short period of time, and then the political problem and pressures are on and it’s panic mode, and here are the vendors waiting on your doorstep to solve your problem.”

Kenneth Trump

President of National School Safety and Security Services

Kenneth Trump, president of consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services, said he’s noticed AI safety technology surging into districts since the end of the 2021-22 school year, especially with more high-profile or multiple gun incidents occurring in schools. 

“The alarm bells go off faster with each incident, especially if they’re in a short period of time, and then the political problem and pressures are on and it’s panic mode, and here are the vendors waiting on your doorstep to solve your problem,” Trump said. 

But he cautioned that knee-jerk reactions by district leaders to make large investments in school safety technology are not good practice. “The worst time to make dramatic changes in your school safety policy and practice is when you’re under intense political pressure from your school community,” Trump said.

A standalone photo of Kenneth Trump.

Kenneth Trump

Permission granted by Kenneth Trump


While the AI field is growing rapidly, Trump said this technology is still in its infancy regarding school safety. He in fact does not advise districts to use the technology.

“Schools are the testing grounds and the new foundation for these companies to build their artificial intelligence. The systems get smarter as they are used,” Trump said. “So those particularly on the front end of this in schools are going to fall prey to the gaps, the limitations, the snafus, the errors, the false positives, and their children and schools are being used to make the vendors’ AI software smarter.”

Uvalde’s impact

Since the horrific May mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, AI has increasingly made its way into school safety technology nationwide.

“Deployment at schools is certainly accelerating. … The reality is — this is an event-driven industry.”

Mike Ellenbogen

Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Evolv

A case in point is Evolv technology, said Mike Ellenbogen, the company’s founder and chief innovation officer. Evolv currently works with 377 schools or districts across the country, using AI to scan 300,000 students each week, according to an email from the company. 

“Deployment at schools is certainly accelerating,” Ellenbogen said. “The reality is — this is an event-driven industry.”

This article originally appeared in www.k12dive.com

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