Metal detectors, bag searches mark first football game since shooting

A security checkpoint outside Forest Hill High School’s football stadium Thursday marked the start of new safety measures at Palm Beach County public school football games, six days after gunfire erupted at a game seven miles away.

At the lightly attended game between Forest Hill and Suncoast, students, parents and fans waited in line for guards to scan them with metal-detector wands and inspect purses and other small bags.

The game served as a test run of new security rules put in place by school district leaders after Friday’s shooting outside a Palm Beach Central High preseason game, including scheduling earlier start times, barring entry after halftime and allowing only transparent bags.

RELATED: Football security changes include earlier starts, some Saturday games

Thursday’s game revealed another new security measure that the district had not publicly announced: metal-detector wands to search every attendee.

The managers of the security firm deploying the wands, Professional Security Consultants, said they had been hired to screen fans at all of the school district’s football games this weekend. (UPDATE: Amity Schuyler, the school district’s chief of staff, said Friday that metal detectors would be used at all district football games this season.)

Four private security guards at the checkpoint worked to keep the line moving, ensuring that no one waited more than a couple of minutes to enter. But the wait times will likely be longer at more heavily attended games.

Most fans seemed to appreciate the new measures, saying the extra security gave them more peace of mind while sitting in the stands.

“It takes longer but it’s better to be safe,” said Gianni Cedillos, a Forest Hill senior.

RELATED: PBC schools spent millions securing campuses. Still, gunfire erupted

Jessica Hicks, whose son plays for Forest Hill, said that metal detectors have long been in place for games at nearby Palm Beach Lakes High, and that it was time for other schools to do likewise.

“I feel much safer,” she said. “I love it.”

While signs warned that purses would not be allowed, security guards let attendees enter with purses after inspecting their contents.

Forest Hill Principal Mary Stratos said some of the new security rules — such as barring entry after halftime — already were in place at her school. But she said she welcomed the checkpoint, saying it encouraged a family-friendly atmosphere.

“We want you to be able to feel safe and play,” she said.

Most students seemed supportive as well, she said. Indeed, some students seemed to view the extra security as a school status symbol, mirroring security measures at professional sports games.

As Stratos stood outside the stadium Thursday watching students and families arrive, one of the school’s varsity soccer players pointed to the security checkpoint.

He said that when the varsity soccer team wins a state championship, “I want the same thing.”

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