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OPENGATE security systems installed at all district schools

By CJ HADDAD - | Apr 30, 2024

Students, above, walk through the new OPENGATE security system at Challenger Middle School Tuesday morning. CJ HADDAD

The School District of Lee County is always working to ensure student safety, and this week a milestone was reached, as every single school in the district is now equipped with weapon detection technology.

More than 300 OPENGATE detection systems, which perform fast and atomic screening and detection of weapons, are now in each and every school throughout the district. The lightweight and maneuverable technology allows for students to quickly enter the school while scanning their backpacks and person for anything not permitted on school grounds.

Students walk through the two pillars, which will stay lit green if no threats are detected, but will turn red if a bag needs to be checked more thoroughly.

“It was a project we started at the beginning of the school year — our goal was to have every single school in Lee County have a weapon detection system at every entry point. We’re happy to say we achieved that,” said the school district’s Executive Director of Safety, Security, Emergency Management David Newlan. “It’s a good feeling that we can do everything we can to help the kids feel safe and the staff feel safe, and let parents know we’re doing all we can to help their children feel safe every day when they come to school.”

Newlan, the former chief of police at the Cape Coral Police Department, said the devices look at the metallic density of each item on a student or in a student’s bag, as well as the shape, and is meant to identify any weapon from a firearm, to a knife, to a bomb.

“It’s not a normal metal detector, it’s a weapon detection system,” Newlan said. “Therefore, in a school setting, kids can walk through with their keys, their phones and everything else. It doesn’t have to come out of their backpack or out of their pocket. We’re only looking for weapons before they get into the school.”

Students at Challenger Middle School in Cape Coral have been using the OPENGATE system since the beginning of the school year. Items such as their laptops, as well as large three-ring binders, are taken out to not set off the detector. Students with large musical instruments such as a trumpet, will have their cases checked daily by security or School Resource Officer.

“OPENGATE has been an amazing system for Challenger,” said Challenger Middle School Principal Stacia Winfree. “It has made our students feel safe and secure as an added safety feature. It’s great for us, because they actually see three people as they walk in the door. We’re able to greet them and give them a sense of stability and safeness.”

Eighth-grade student Bella Tolbeot said students have become used to walking in each morning, handing their laptop to a teacher and walking through the non-intimidating system.

“It’s just a part of our every day routine,” she said. “It’s really easy to use. We know now that nothing’s coming into the school that shouldn’t be coming in.”

Tolbeot said it gives her peace of mind to know every student, teacher or visitor coming through the door in the morning has to walk though OPENGATE.

“It helps us know no one is going to be a danger to our school,” she said. “Even if someone walks though (with a weapon), they’re stopped immediately.”

Tolbeot said especially with the prominence of school shooting or violent incidents around the country, having the system in place is something she’s happy to see the school district implement.

Challenger Middle School seventh grader Aidan Bevitt agreed.

“It makes me feel more safe. It’s a sense of reassurance,” he said.

Bevitt said he and his classmates naturally at first had to get used to the new protocol, but one that was worth it.

“It’s minimal,” he said of the morning routine. “It makes me feel a lot better to know this will help prevent incidents across the district, and will make our schools better where more learning can take place.”

Teachers and staff have also embraced the new security measure.

“We have teachers that man OPENGATE every morning, and it’s a great way for the teachers to connect with the students while we’re making sure safety is a top priority at this school.”

The OPENGATE system runs on battery and is lightweight, coming in at only 25 pounds. They are also weatherproof. They can be used at sporting events, and other school functions. Winfree said they systems are easy to use, to store, and to operate each and every day.

“I think it’s important that we make sure that whatever event we have on school campus, when people walk in, they feel safe,” Winfree said.

Of course, parents have been supportive of this extra measure, Winfree said, and got an up-close look during an open house.

Newlan said providing layers of security at each school in the district is a task he takes very seriously.

“This whole project was looked at as making sure nothing bad gets carried though the threshold of any school,” Newlan said. “We want to prevent that. And we will continue to add more layers as we move forward.

“Our goal is to make sure students feel safe in our schools, our staff feel safe and parents know we’re doing all we can so students can focus on their education.”

The School District of Lee County is the first in Florida to have all schools equipped with weapon detection technology.