Safe & Secure Schools

Securing Classroom Doors – The New Paradigm

Airports, hospitals, schools… originally designed as open environments. Think of those wonderful movies where at the last moment the hero gets to the gate just in the nick-of-time to confess his love and stop the girl from getting on the plane. Today, the hero wouldn’t get past the first security checkpoint, never mind the body scanner.

We certainly can’t subject our schools to the same level of restricted access as today’s airports, but there are new realities that change the way we look at creating a safe environment for children, faculty and staff. The first shift began a few years back with creating a “fortress”-type locking scenario, while respecting life-safety codes. Exit-only doors must now remain secured during the day. Some schools have alarmed them to prevent students from unauthorized exiting or teachers from using them during smoking breaks.

Entrance doors to schools should now be secured 24/7. When students enter in the morning, there is generally a staff member at the doors while they are propped open for the heavy traffic. But all visitors to schools are now required to check-in at the office. Many schools are creating secured vestibules so physical entry is not possible until the visitor’s credentials have been authorized. This generally requires some redesign or construction, but it is the first step in creating an entry gauntlet and restricting access.

Our approach to classroom locking must also change. Emergency drills in the past dealt with shepherding students out of the classroom in an orderly fashion and then out of the building. A new emergency drill has been created which involves sheltering in place. The initial response by a teacher to an event or alarm signal must now be to determine which type of alarm and which type of response.

Sheltering in place requires us to rethink the function of classroom door locks. Previously, they had been used solely to restrict access to tardy students once a class had begun, or to lock up a classroom at the end of the day. Both of these functions could be accomplished by opening the door and turning a key in a lock, which disabled the exterior lever or knob. Typical classroom doors are secured only by a latch, so enabling or disabling the exterior lever or knob functions as locking the door.

Today’s classroom security locking paradigm forces us to rethink our basic assumptions:

  1. Is opening the door in order to lock it acceptable?
  2. Does a latch provide the proper level of protection against entry?
  3. Can a teacher speedily use a key on the inside of the door to quickly secure the room?

All of these must be considered in developing solutions, along with relevant life-safety codes, which uniformly require single-motion egress from within the classroom at all times. Any solution which impedes single motion exiting should not be considered – it is a life-safety hazard and must not be employed.

Security professionals are developing a variety of mechanical and electronic locking solutions to meet these quick locking needs. Determining which solution meets the requirements for your individual school requires all stakeholders to review the various options, determine which best suits their needs and evaluate them while recognizing the new security paradigm for students and teachers.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management July 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Mark J. Berger is the president & chief product officer for Securitech Group, Inc. and chair of the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association Codes & Government Affairs Committee.