Prior to Columbine, when classroom security concerns focused more on preventing burglaries than shootings, schools were typically designed with doors that could only be locked with a key from the outside. After the massacre – in which shooters were only able to access unlocked classrooms – schools across the United States began installing specialized security locks in classrooms, sometimes called “Columbine” locks. “.
These locks allow teachers to secure their classrooms with a key on each side of the door. When the door is locked, no one can enter from outside the classroom, but the door can still be opened from inside by simply turning the knob. This allows students and teachers to freely exit the classroom at any time, as required by fire codes.
Upgrading doesn’t come cheap – installing a Columbine lock can cost between $200 and $900 per door, according to an industry estimate, although some older locks can be retrofitted inexpensively . But there’s a broad consensus among school safety experts and advocates that it’s a simple and effective measure that some school districts have left out even as they’ve spent millions on it. new security. Amid pressure to “toughen up” schools, and in the absence of state or local requirements to upgrade locks, districts have bought everything from bulletproof whiteboards to artificial intelligence-powered gun detection devices, despite little evidence that these products prevent shots.
“Instead of giving money to all these security companies, why not use it to change the door locks?” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the primary union for educators. The group co-authored a 2020 school safety plan with the Everytown for Gun Safety research division and the National Education Association recommending that all classrooms have interior locking doors.
While restricting access to firearms remains their top priority, the groups said interior locks are key to deterring shooters entering a school. “It’s less invasive than virtually any other type of security measure,” Weingarten said.
Having to step out of the classroom to lock a door during a shooting is “crazy,” she added.
The Uvalde School District did not respond to questions about its classroom door locks or the Robb Elementary teacher’s account of the shooting.
The problem resurfaced time and again after the school shootings: In 2007, the Virginia Tech shooter repeatedly entered the classrooms which could not be locked from the inside, while students and teachers struggled to barricade the doors with their bodies and with furniture; 32 were killed.
The call for improved locks was reignited after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six educators were killed by a gunman, and after the shooting of 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 14 students and three staff members. None of the schools had interior-locking classroom doors.
‘There has never been an event in which an active shooter broke through a locked classroom door’, safety commission convened after Newtown massacre reported in 2015recommending the security measure.
But the logistics and expense of installing these locks can deter districts from investing in them, said Amy Klinger, founder and program director of The Educator’s School Safety Network, a nonprofit group that helps districts protect against firearm attacks.
“Think of how many hundreds of thousands of schools there are in the United States and in each one you have maybe 200 doors,” she said. “The scope is getting incredibly expensive and overwhelming to try to standardize.”
No state requires all schools to install interior locks, although some recommend it, and a wave of school security grants often follows shootings. But even when they have new funds, schools struggle to decide what to prioritize.
“School districts and administrators are overwhelmed with the number of options and solutions,” said Cedric Calhoun, chief executive of DHI, an industry group for door security professionals. “Often they can overlook the simplicity of a door lock.”
Like many U.S. school districts, Uvalde has significantly beefed up its school security measures in recent years: The district hired a social media monitoring company, brought in drug-sniffing dogs, and used a scanner to see if visitors were registered sex offenders, according to the security plan posted on its website, which more than doubled its security budget.
But the only mention of door locks in the publicly posted plan was the district’s requirement that teachers keep their classroom doors closed and locked ‘at all times’ – without outlining any steps they might have to take. to do it. The district did not respond to questions about the types of locks on its classroom doors or its efforts to ensure the locks worked.
The issue is now coming under renewed scrutiny following the shooting at Robb Elementary. Among the series of missteps and mistakes that allowed the Uvalde shooting to result in so many deaths – including a belated police response that left the siege dragging on for more than an hour – the gates of school emerged as a major security breach. Last month, the Uvalde teacher who spoke to NBC News was among those who testified at a closed meeting of a Texas House special committee investigating the massacre.
While she thinks the government should make it harder to buy assault rifles, including raising the minimum age, she wanted to make sure lawmakers were aware of a more fundamental concern.
“Classroom doors should not have windows and the doors should be able to be locked from the inside and the outside,” she recalled telling the committee. “I shouldn’t have to go out and put myself in danger to check that my door is locked.”
The concern surfaced once again in public testimony from Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, who said the shooter walked through a classroom door that was closed but did not appear secure – and did not could not be locked from the inside.
“It’s ridiculous, and it’s inexcusable if you look at it from a security perspective,” he said at last month’s hearing. He also pointed to another lock security issue that the district had not addressed: The striker plate – the metal device that allows the door to lock – was damaged in the first classroom the shooter entered. with the door unsecured. It was an issue that at least one teacher had previously reported to the school, but which has not been resolved, McCraw said.