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Californian columnist Lois Henry

I was all prepared to be outraged when I got a tip about teachers in Delano having to "wand" kids for weapons in reaction to an off-campus shooting late last year.

Given Kern County's abysmal overall test scores and graduation rates, shouldn't teachers spend every possible minute teaching? Not playing cops and robbers?

Well, details can sometimes derail a good rant and that's what happened here.

Having teachers voluntarily wand students at the North Kern Community School in Delano seems to me more of a sad testament to the times in which we live than administrative strong arming.

The incident last Nov. 5 that got the ball rolling didn't happen on campus, but close enough. A 16-year-old student was walking home from North Kern Community School when shots rang out from a white car driving down Cecil Avenue. The student was hit in the abdomen and arm but was able to make it back to the school where officials called 911. The boy's wounds were reported as minor.

But the shooting sent shockwaves through the school and the community.

The Delano Police Department facilitated an open forum for teachers, school administrators, parents and neighbors to talk about the incident and brainstorm better security measures.

"The school already has metal detectors on campus to keep kids from bringing in knives and guns," said Delano PD Commander Raul Alvizo.

Of course, the school can't do anything about off-campus violence, particularly drive-by shootings.

But to increase on-campus security, even incrementally, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, which oversees the county's community schools, asked teachers to voluntarily help check students for weapons using hand held metal detectors, or wands.

Wanding isn't new to Kern's community schools (known as "continuation" schools to my generation). The larger, more urban community schools have both metal detectors and wands. But they are wielded by security personnel.

Having teachers man the wands hasn't ever been done at other community schools. And it's certainly not an ideal situation. Security professionals would be far better trained in how to wand a kid and, more importantly, what to do if they actually found a knife or gun.

I didn't get an argument on that point from either Carlos Rojas, director of the superintendent of schools' alternative education program, or Sixto Urzua, head of the Kern County Education Association. But, they both said, this is a necessary, stop-gap measure at North Kern. And it's totally voluntary.

Part of the problem is North Kern only has one, unarmed security officer. Increasing that number is also under consideration following last November's shooting.

Meanwhile, teachers are being asked to help. After the union brought up concerns about the need for proper training and protocols, management brought in the Probation Department to help teachers with the basics.

"All staff at community schools are expeted to contribute to safety on campus," Urzua said. "That can be as simple as asking a student to empty his pockets. Wanding is another resource that was made available to us."

For the most part, he said, his members haven't complained.

"Our staff, when they come to work with these kids, they come into it knowing that these are kids who've been expelled elsewhere," Rojas said. "Some have violent pasts. Even without wanding, they know it's not an easy task."

And, as I said earlier, North Kern has even greater challenges.

Delano sits on the dividing line between two rival Hispanic gangs. Rojas, who was previously North Kern's principal, said the school feels that rivalry "very intensely."

Staffers have to monitor scheduling closely in order to keep some students from even brushing shoulders in the hallway. And the school has separate entrances, both equipped with metal detectors, to avoid any inadvertant stare downs.

North Kern has about 240 of the district's 1,450 community school students. All community schools typically have small class sizes and try to keep the staff-to-student ratio higher than on regular high school campuses, specifically for security reasons.

Wanding is just one more in a long line of security measures.

""The dangers are endless," Rojas said. "We see it happening all over our country and we want to prevent it from happening here."

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail