Are Your Classroom Locks Functional or Mere Security Illusions?
Some campuses are still turning to barricade devices to lock classroom doors. Here are five potential unintended consequences of using these devices.
With a continued focus on school security, classroom locks have been the subject of much discussion and debate. Most classroom doors are equipped with traditional locksets, but some school administrators are concerned that these locks aren’t secure enough for today’s threats. However, to date, reports of school shootings that have made national news have not cited instances of locked doors being breached through the lock.
Despite this, schools across the country have considered using retrofit solutions that give the illusion of security with little or no evidence of how they will perform. For example, a short length of fire hose slipped over the arm of a door closer may seem like it would prevent access to the classroom, but it is actually only as strong as the screws that attach the closer to the door.
In many districts, there are concerns because existing locks require teachers to open their doors and, in some cases, step into the hallway to use their keys to lock the doors, potentially exposing them to danger. Although there are lock conversion kits to allow doors to be locked from the inside, some school districts have considered purchasing retrofit security products, often called classroom barricade devices.
Classroom Barricade Device Issues
While a simple means of securing a door from the inside may sound like a positive step in preventing unauthorized entry, there are potential unintended consequences that must be considered when making decisions about classroom security:
- Fire Safety: Some proponents of classroom barricade devices have argued that security should be prioritized over fire safety because fires rarely occur in schools. In reality, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that between 2013 and 2017, an average of almost 5,000 fires occurred each year in U.S. educational occupancies. Because of strong code requirements and proactive enforcement, fatalities in these fires are extremely rare. However, without the codes protecting the life safety of building occupants, it’s likely the high-fatality school fires of the past would reoccur.
- Emergency Response: When a barricade device is used to prevent an intruder from entering a classroom, it may also prevent access for school staff and emergency responders. Many of these devices are difficult or impossible to remove from the outside. In several school shootings, assailants have barricaded doors, delaying law enforcement response. After the tragedies at Virginia Tech, Platte Canyon High School and the West Nickel Mines Amish Schoolhouse, emergency responders publicly discussed their difficulties in accessing the barricaded areas to reach hostages or injured victims.
- Unauthorized Use: The practice of storing a barricade device next to a classroom door could allow an unauthorized person to deploy it, effectively trapping occupants in a room against their will. The risk of school crime should not be underestimated. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017, students ages 12–18 experienced about 827,000 victimizations at school, including thefts and nonfatal violent victimizations. While school shootings are a very serious threat, they are not nearly as common as other types of crime that occur in schools.
- Accessibility: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other accessibility standards include requirements to ensure that doors can be operated by people with disabilities. A door with a security device that is not operable as required by the codes and standards can increase risk and liability. In addition to the effects of vision impairments and orthopedic disabilities on the operation of doors, people with autism or other developmental differences need to anticipate familiar methods for egress—especially during a crisis.
- Potential Liability: Property owners have a duty to keep their premises safe for anyone there legally, but children require a higher degree of care. If a property owner has violated a code, law or regulation, it can be argued that the owner is negligent in using the required amount of care. A third-party legal opinion concluded that classroom barricade devices—which by their nature do not permit immediate, free egress—don’t meet the requirements of the published model codes or federal laws commonly adopted and enforced in the U.S. Even if a state legislature allows districts within its jurisdiction to override certain code requirements, state legislation cannot override federal laws. And when child safety is at stake, jurors might give more weight to established life safety codes than to state legislatures.
The model codes and standards adopted in most U.S. states require classroom door hardware to meet the following four requirements:
- Doors must unlatch with one releasing operation (all locks and latches simultaneously). Some states allow two releasing operations, but there are further limitations in state laws and adopted codes to ensure the safety of building occupants.
- Releasing hardware must be mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor, so it is within the reach range of most people – including those using wheelchairs.
- Hardware must be operable without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist, and without the use of a key, tool, special knowledge or effort for egress.
- Locked doors must be able to be unlocked from the outside with a key, credential or other approved means, so staff and emergency responders can enter the room.
There are many locksets available that provide the necessary level of security and comply with the requirements of the model codes and the ADA. Existing locksets that are not lockable from the inside may be able to be converted without total replacement. School districts can consider installing impact-resistant glazing or security film on glass adjacent to door hardware to help deter access to the inside lever.
Key distribution is also critical, so all staff members have the ability to initiate a lockdown or access locked rooms. With proper planning, classroom locks can provide safe and simple security.
For more information, visit us.allegion.com/schoolsecurity.
Lori Greene is the codes and resources manager for Allegion.