School crisis lockdown plans when students are in restrooms

Posted by on November 21, 2013

What do we do about students who are in the restroom when we announce a lockdown?

This question is raised often during our school security assessment consulting and training presentations around the country. The issue has several variables schools must prepare for as they develop and refine their emergency guidelines.

Don’t leave students stranded in restrooms

Too often we see emergency plans or guidelines which dismiss this depth of the issue with a simple statement such as, “All students will report to the nearest classroom.”  While at face value this is generally true, children and staff must be trained to the specific protocol established by school administrators and crisis team. We do NOT believe students should be left to make this decision on their own, regardless of their age.

We also do NOT believe students should “lockdown” in a restroom or trained to stand on toilets as a routine response simply so adults do not have to make an attempt to get them out of the restroom even when they can safely do so. This is something we have seen in a number of plans around the country.  If this is in your plans, now is a good time to revisit this component of school emergency planning.

One of our basic beliefs we impart to our clients is simple: All adults in the school environment are responsible for the safety of all children. Therefore, all staff (including support personnel) must be trained to the expectations of them in many areas of school safety, including with lockdowns.

Improved lockdowns and restroom student safety involves better planning

Some points to discuss as a school crisis team may include:

  • Inspect all restrooms to see if PA announcements can be heard. All restrooms should be equipped with PA speakers. Too often we find that PA announcements cannot be heard when students and/or staff are inside restrooms.
  • Identify safe sheltering locations near restrooms and train staff to move students to them in a lockdown. If a lockdown is announced at an elementary building while a classroom or group of students is using the restroom, for example, the staff member supervising the students must clear the restrooms of all students and move to the nearest safe sheltering location.  If that is a classroom, then the teacher nearest the restroom should anticipate the arrival of students who might be in the restroom along with the adult supervising the students.
  • Develop guidelines that include attention to, and protocols to support, special needs children who may be in restrooms, going to and from restrooms, and in classes during lockdowns. Additional staff support may be needed for these students.
  • Train and assign staff to check restrooms. At all schools, staff should be trained to check restrooms for children when a lockdown is announced.  This means an adult, often a nearby classroom teacher, will be assigned to check a particular restroom(s).  This assignment should be established with by-name accountability, i.e., by staff member name.  This does mean that short of an obvious imminent threat to the adult, an adult will have to leave their classroom or other work area to check for children. Custodial, other support staff, administrators, and unassigned teachers should be engaged to help secure areas when possible during lockdowns, too. This point also applies to site evacuations as well, such as for a fire drill.
  • Train, drill and debrief.  Administrators and crisis team members learn through drilling, debriefing, and training. When doing drills, take time to assess issues that arise around restrooms during these lockdown drills. Debrief the drill with teachers, support staff, administrators and students. Adjust guidelines and follow-up training accordingly.

Reasonable judgment, sound decisions

These are general discussion points made with the understanding that events require some common sense judgment when danger is nearby.  What is “reasonable” in specific incidents will ultimately be determined based upon the unique facts at hand, training, drilling, and debriefing lessons learned.

Time and time again, school staff members have chosen to place themselves in harm’s way to protect students.  With the proper procedures and training, we can minimize the risk for all.

Chuck Hibbert

School Security Consultant 

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5 thoughts on “School crisis lockdown plans when students are in restrooms

  1. M. Reedy says:

    Our 12 year old grandson has brought this issue up with me all summer. He is moving into a junior high building this year and is very concerned that no teacher could tell him what he was to do in the event a lock down occurred.Who on the school staff usually goes over all this with the students? Do schools perform practice drills other than for storms?.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      I recommend you you address this question directly to your grandson’s principal.

  2. Beth Mueller says:

    When Sandyhook happened I went online to find how safe a classroom door is. At that time they still had up the bullet tests. A typical classroom door is not going to stop a gunman. Schools were NOT designed for this and why should they be? We are going to have an entire generation with PTSD.

  3. Zaeden says:

    I think that certain staff near restrooms should technically have to check the restroom for safety reasons As long as the threat cannot be seen or heard.

  4. Rush says:

    As a junior in high school, here is what you should actually do. This minimizes risk of being caught and maximizes your chances of hiding/escaping.
    -If there is an exit immediately close (no more than you could walk in 5 seconds) and the coast is clear, book it and run as far as you can. Try to run into a forest if you can, tall grass works too.
    -If you cannot, lock the stall door and crawl into the ceiling. Most schools have removable rectangle things. Then, use your internal map to either crawl to the exterior walls and bust out or crawl above an empty room (staff room, cafeteria, library) and STAY PUT. STAY SILENT.
    -If you for some reason cannot do that, as quietly as you can take whatever can be used as a weapon. Wrench a faucet off of its hinges, use a soap dispenser, even just your phone.
    Take off your shirt (preferrably) or bra/socks and be prepared to throw them as a blinding tool to hinder the sight of an intruder.
    Hide, but do not limit your range of escape. You should have more than one direction you can run in, even if it means standing in semi-open area. STAY SILENT.
    If an intruder goes in, go feral. Scream, poke their eyes out, kick them in the nono square, tear their jaw open and twist their bones. Anything.
    If you can apprehend them, kick the gun away or throw it in a trash can with things on top of it. Then, call 911 or shout for someone to call
    I feel awful writing this on my school issued chromebook, but I know for a fact that this information will bring at least a scrap of hope and comfort for those who need it.

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