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Classroom security: What you should (not) do

There are many ways to lock a classroom door. Unfortunately, too many of the tactics employed today actually put staff and students at risk


Safe School Week will be a national observation during the third week in October (Oct. 19-25).

One study, “On the Importance of a Safe School and Classroom Climate for Student Achievement in Reading Literacy,” reported that variation between classes’ reading achievement could be explained by safety factors—with these factors significantly and positively impacting achievement.

Additionally, “Too Scared to Learn? The Academic Consequences of Feeling Unsafe at School,” reports that a safe environment is a prerequisite for productive learning. Findings showed that if students feel unsafe in the classroom, they are less able to concentrate in class and perform well on assessments. In addition, students who report feeling unsafe in the classroom have higher mean absences and lower scores on the math and English language arts standardized tests.

Thus, beyond potential harm, student safety is an extremely important topic. And, classroom security is as critical to the safety of students and staff as is perimeter access into a school. Every school should meet or exceed the baseline of classroom security for products and protocol.

There are many ways to lock a classroom door. Unfortunately, too many of the tactics employed today actually put staff and students at risk. It’s important for school administrators and parents to know which methods are effective and which should be avoided.

(Next page: Baseline classroom security options)

Baseline classroom security

There are different options for implementing that baseline, depending on budget, staffing capabilities and potential risk factors. Most importantly, when it comes to classroom security, it’s imperative that teachers and staff can lock doors promptly for their protection and that of students. In fact, it is becoming mandatory. States are beginning to be proactive in defining what it means to provide classroom security.

California, for example, established a law in 2011 (AB 211, Article 8.5) that requires classrooms and rooms with an occupant load of more than five people to be equipped with classroom security locks.

Available in both mechanical and electronic options, these locks retract via a latchbolt using a knob/lever from either side, unless the outside is locked by key from either side. When locked, the latchbolt retracts by a key outside or the knob/lever inside. An auxiliary latch deadlocks the latchbolt when the door is locked. The inside lever is always free for immediate egress.

According to Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, a codes expert at Allegion and author of, classroom security locks are ideal in the school environment because they do not impede egress. The door may be opened from the inside by simply turning the lever, even when the door is locked. The key cylinder on the inside is used to lock the outside lever only.

Additionally, because a key is required to lock the door, it prevents students and others who don’t have access to the key from locking the door. This is important to classroom safety because there’s actually a higher likelihood of student-on-student or student-on-teacher violence than that of an outside intruder. Consider the following:

  • In 2010, there were approximately 828,000 nonfatal victimizations at schools among students 12 to 18 years of age.*
  • Approximately 7 percent of teachers report that they have been threatened with injury or physically attacked by a student from their school.*
    • In fact, it is about 30,000 times more likely that a student or staff will experience a non-fatal violent or seriously violent crime in school than will experience a fatal active assailant.*

In addition to classroom lockdown, classroom security locks help prevent disturbances in halls from expanding into the classroom, improve building security during afterhours use, secure contents during non-school hours and provide environmental consistency throughout a building.

(Next page: More classroom safety precautions)

Additional classroom safety measures

While classroom security locks provide the first layer of defense, they should not be the only tactic utilized to ensure classroom safety. Additionally, schools should:

  • Keep doors closed, except during changing periods,
  • Keep doors locked while rooms are in use to enable faster lockdown in emergency situations,
  • Consider bullet-resistant film/shades and
  • Develop a safety plan, including staff protocol and places to hide.

Here’s What NOT to Do 

In all too many instances, many schools are using measures that, if anything, put staff and students in greater danger. Among them are:

  • Door hardware that forces an individual to step out of the room to lock the door, exposing that person to the intruder or conflict in the hallway.
  • Hardware with “unrestricted ability” to lock or unlock the door. This lets anyone – including students – take control of an opening.
  • Magnets or tape on the door to prevent latching. Not only is this a violation of fire code but, in lockdowns, you want the door to latch!
  • School doors that don’t automatically close, potentially  preventing them from being in a ready position during an emergency lockdown.
  • Hardware that is not permanently attached to the door, requiring staff to locate and attach the device in the midst of a lockdown emergency.
  • Hardware that slows access or egress during an emergency situation.
  • Deadstop devices or sleeves which clasp around the v-shaped hinge attached to the closer mechanism on doors. This is another violation of fire code.
  • Floor bolts or other devices that obstruct the door and don’t let it close.
  • Anything that blocks entrance to emergency responders.
  • Any option that might be accessed or used by an unauthorized person acting with ill-intent.  This could be a student, visitor or another staff member.

The Right Lockdown Solution

Contrary to those “quick fix” solutions, when selecting security hardware and establishing protocol within a school, there are several aspects that should be considered:

  • The severity of the risk
  • The probability of the risk
  • Effectiveness of mitigating the risk
  • Ability of staff to implement lockdown
  • Budget

There are three types of lockdown hardware:

Manual lockdown

  • Keys manually lock down a room or space.
  • Most economical of lockdown solutions.

Remote lockdown

  • Localized solution for schools that want to upgrade without cost of networked system.
  • Lockdown activated by a remote fob within proximity of the door.

Centralized lockdown

  • Integrated with access control software.
  • Doors throughout a building or campus are locked from a central location.

Many classroom security locks include visual indicators, which provide at-a-glance verification of the locked/unlocked status of the door from inside of the classroom. This is a beneficial feature in everyday use as well as in emergencies.

In the K-12 and higher education environments, indicators should be part of the overall security plan. With indicators on locks or exit devices, an opening can be quickly assessed – from a distance – to determine if it is locked. The convenience of visual indicators to assess a lock saves time and alleviates confusion in the event of an emergency.

More Security, Less Risk

Regardless of a school’s available budget, there are always safety measures that can be taken to minimize threats of violence. There are avenues to fund door hardware upgrades that will provide the right type of security for any school today.

In addition to state and federal grants, many schools take advantage of the federal government’s Cooperative Purchasing program to secure discounted pricing and pre-vetted vendors. These options help schools make decisions that will enhance security and mitigate risk.

* National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, and Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, DC; 2010.

April Dalton-Noblitt is Director of Vertical Marketing, Allegion. 

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