Following an “imitation gun” incident, students met with metal detectors upon arriving to the building

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As students arrived for zero band on Thursday, they were met with a jarring sight: the usual requirements to show a completed health screening to school aides in the lobby were overshadowed by towering metal detectors and NYPD Special Resource Officers checking their bags for weaponry or any sort of contraband. Although a common or even daily occurrence for many other schools across New York City, no students had experienced such scannings at THHS. The arrival of the detectors was prompted by a staff member’s discovery of what was later identified as an “imitation gun” in the boys locker room on Wednesday. Many students and staff said they felt especially on edge by the appearance of the detectors, given the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas, which has resulted in national outrage, grief, and horror at the recurrence of gun violence in American schools.

It began on Wednesday, when an unnamed staff member saw two students in the hallway who he believed should not have been there at the time, according to Principal Brian Condon. The staff member followed them into the boys locker room and then reportedly spotted what he believed to be a firearm on the locker room floor. He then brought the object to his office and contacted the dean. After Mr. Condon was made aware of the situation, he called local authorities, including the Borough Safety Director, School Safety, and the New York Police Department. When they arrived, they determined that the supposed firearm was fake, labeling it as an “imitation gun.” Law enforcement has since confiscated the item from school premises, and the THHS administration does not yet know the person responsible for bringing it into the building. 

At around 5:30 p.m., an email was sent out to all students and a pre-recorded call was sent to parents, informing them of what had transpired and assuring them that the school is “committed to providing all students with a safe and nurturing learning environment.” 

In accordance with Department of Education and School Safety protocols, the administration was given little notice before metal detectors arrived at the school on Thursday, ensuring that students and staff were unaware of the equipment’s presence beforehand. The policy that prevents a school community from knowing about the procedures well before arriving at a building is known as “unannounced scanning,” the goal being to catch unsuspecting carriers of illegal items or weapons by nixing their ability to plan ahead. 

Many students expressed their initial alarm and confusion after first seeing the metal detectors and the long line that consequently formed during zero band. 

Freshman Sithi Das said she was “uncomfortable and shocked” to see the police presence. Sophomore Nicolas Lee said he wondered if he would be able to get to class on time. Sophomore Hamza Mohamed said he was “pretty shocked and pretty confused at the same time.” 

Social Studies teacher Frank McCaughey described the development as “shocking but not surprising based on everything that’s going on,” saying “having lived with [metal detectors] for a decade [at another school, it was] not something you’d expect to see, but sadly [it] feels like something that’s just a part of life right now.”

School Librarian Arlene Laverde, who has been an educator in the DOE for over 30 years, said, “It’s not the first time I’ve had to walk through metal detectors. I’m actually quite surprised that this is the first time metal detectors have been at THHS and my career here.” 

“I definitely think it’s a good decision because you never know what can happen and it’s always good to take precaution,” said senior Anjalina Budhram. Senior Dionisios Diamantis shared a similar sentiment, saying “I’m glad the school is doing something and had a quick response like this. Even though it’s taking a while to get to school, at least we are safer…But yeah, it’s kind of scary.” 

English teacher Ryan Dunbar said, “I guess I was upset that it had to come to this, that we’re in a situation where we felt that was necessary.”

The emotional impact of the imitation gun incident and the tumult that followed was deepened for many by the mass shootings that have occurred within the past few weeks. The recent shootings that resulted in the death of 10 people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York and 19 children and two adults in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas have left many in the THHS community heartbroken and frightened by the current state of the country.

“For the imitation gun to be brought to school on the day after the shooting in Texas is just really terrible,” Senior Advisor Jaime Baranoff said. “It boggles my mind that the US has mass shootings like this so frequently compared to other countries in the world. It really is a scary time.”

Senior Eliza Josephson said, “there’s so much struggle around gun security and safety going around the country and the fact that it’s come to our school just really makes it feel a lot more intense. A lot of these things tend to feel abstract and we become desensitized to them.” 

“We’ve been lucky here for two reasons,” Mr. Condon said. “One, I think this is the first time we’ve ever had scanning at THHS. We’ve never had to have that and it can be a difficult experience for kids for the first time. We’ve also been lucky in that we’ve had children, up until recently, who are responsible about what they bring to school.” 

This morning, students were once again met with NYPD presence and scanning equipment as they entered the building. 

Additional reporting by Janna Habibulla, Kate Estevez, Jasmine Palma, Julia Maciejak, Victoria Siebor, and Ryan Eng 

Photo by Jasmine Palma

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