Our community’s work is about securing schools, yes. But in the larger picture, it’s about securing opportunities for our kids. Education provides doors of opportunities for them to succeed and make our world better, and it helps them find joy in their lives.
One of the easiest and most efficient ways to increase safety and security in our schools is to ensure all doors in schools remain secured when school is in session. It sounds easy enough, but there’s a lot to consider when securing the doors not just into a school but inside the school. This article, and PASS’s Guidelines, can help.
Ending the Practice of Circumvention & Unintended Consequences
Ken Cook has long been a stalwart in the school safety and security space. He has been a part of our advisory committee for many years, and currently chairs our Outreach Committee. As the Director of National School Safety and Advocacy for Allegion, a company specializing in safety and security solutions and a PASS partner, he’s in a unique position to evaluate the data and find the signals through the noise surrounding the role doors play in school safety and security.
Doors can play a critical part in securing spaces by deterring and delaying entry, as we are learning from the recent Covenant School and Robb Elementary School shootings. While not many details are known, the recent Covenant School shooting video released by the Nashville Metro police showed the assailant entered the building by shooting through a set of glass doors.
PASS recommends that security film or ballistic rated glass be installed on all exterior doors. Security film is not intended to stop live rounds; however, the film will ensure the window will remain intact, which could delay entry into the building. PASS recommends security film be at least 14 mil thick (350 microns) and should be installed on all exterior door vision panels. There are many levels of bullet-resistant glass, each with a varying amount of resistance to different types of bullets.
Other learnings from previous events point to the prevalence of workarounds to circumvent door security best practices.
“For example,” Ken shared, “exterior doors on schools should always be closed and locked. The problem is people are propping exterior and classroom doors open to provide a convenient re-entry point for themselves and others.”
Here’s what we have learned to date from Robb Elementary.
The Texas House of Representatives’ Investigative Committee Interim Report found “a regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks.” That fateful day, a door used by the attacker was reported to have been propped open with a rock, and a staff member later removed it.
In the Texas Senate Special Session hearing soon after the Robb Elementary shooting, it was reported the door remained unlocked and the attacker was still able to open the door and enter the building. Based on this report, there were two actions preventing that particular door from being secure: the exterior door being propped open and unlocked.
With respect to the interior classroom door, the Texas House Committee reported, “Other information described in this report casts doubt on the suggestion the door was actually locked,” and “teachers would use . . . magnets to prevent interior door locks from latching.” In fact, “The school had adopted security policies to lock exterior doors and interior classroom doors.” Although the final report has not been issued, we do know frame magnets can prevent a door from being secured. When used, they prevent the latch on the door lock from engaging into the frame strike plate that secures the door.
Magnetic strips compromised security at the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting where an assailant freely entered the room, and as reported by NBC news, the shooter “pulled the magnetic strip and shut the door to prevent it from being opened from the outside. ” One student was killed and eight others were wounded.
Magnetic strips and other related devices prevent the latch on the lock from extending as it was designed to operate. Keeping springs depressed over extended periods may weaken their strength, and in the case of locks, could prevent the latch from securely extending into the strike plate.
“These are similar to other ad hoc solutions,” Ken said, “like barricade devices, which also have many unintended consequences and liabilities for school districts.” More information on the risk of these devices can be found on PASS’s resource pages.
The PASS Guidelines recommend that school staff remain diligent about locking all the exterior and classroom doors. This was a finding from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission Report: “All classroom doors should be able to be locked from inside or there must be an enforced policy that all doors remain locked at all times without exception.”
Ken noted, “Most schools have door locks that can function as the Public Safety Commission recommends and it doesn’t require any additional investment. The dilemma many face is enforcing this policy. We should always ask ourselves when considering any type of safety workarounds that favor convenience: Am I sacrificing safety and security? If the answer is yes, find a solution that provides both the security and convenience needed for that situation.”
Breaking Down Security Door by Door
There is much to consider when securing doors on your campus, especially regarding door location and use. Understanding the different types of doors, and their function, is a critical place to start.
Main Entrances: First and foremost, the PASS Guidelines recommend incorporating a security vestibule at all main entrances. Vestibules funnel visitors before entering the main area of the school building, a vital check-in step for securing schools. Any doors from this area leading into the school are locked from within the vestibule, preventing any unauthorized entrance while allowing those on the inside to leave freely. All exterior doors should have tempered glass reinforced with security film or replaced with laminated or bullet-resistant glass.
Assembly Doors: These are the doors to large public areas like gyms, cafeterias, and libraries. The main requirement of these doors is the ability for someone to lock them from the inside but still allow someone to exit with one motion. With a requirement to have panic hardware installed, they accommodate large numbers of people in such spaces: locking from the inside but having a quick release for emergency exits.
Classroom Doors: PASS recommends investing in classroom doors that lock from the inside. If a security measure with an exterior door, system, or other entry point fails, schools have another layer of security to keep kids and teachers safe. In fact, standard lockdown protocols encourage locked classroom doors.
Secondary Exits: Emergency exit doors intended for egress only (that is, not entry points) should be locked at all times.
Stairwell Doors: The PASS Guidelines recommend interior stairwell doors that lock on the stairs side. By following stairwell reentry requirements, people can still exit efficiently in the case of emergencies. A fail-safe electrified lock that can allow the doors to be unlocked during passing periods, but will still function as the code requires, is the current best practice.
There are many more doors in school environments, especially on larger and more complex campuses. Check our PASS Guidelines for the latest and most thorough information regarding doors and their locks.
Final Notes on School Door Locks
Kathy Martinez-Prater, Director, Texas School Safety Center stated in a Texas Senate Special Committee hearing, “We know that locked doors create time barriers. Time barrier[s] save lives.”
Lastly, remember: PASS is here to help. We can help prioritize and map out an improvement plan for your unique context.
Contributors: PASS thanks Ken Cook of Allegion for contributing to this article.
The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) bringing together expertise from the education, public safety, and industry communities to develop and support a coordinated approach to making effective and appropriate decisions with respect to safety and security investments. You can download the complete PASS Guidelines or check out our PASS Safety and Security Checklist for quick start tips. These resources—as well as whitepapers on various topics including barricade devices, lockdown drills, and more—are available at no cost.
Correction: In the original blog post published on May 2, 2023, we mistakenly recommended the security film thickness in millimeters. The measurement should be mil, and not millimeters.
In addition, we spelled the name Kathy Martinez Prather’s without the hyphen between “Martinez” and “Prather”. It should have been spelled Kathy Martinez-Prather, with the last name having a hyphen.
We updated the post to fix our mistakes on May 11, 2023. Apologies for the oversight.
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