Ohio school safety policy should be barricaded from politics

Posted by on March 7, 2015

A highly emotional controversy is spreading across Ohio over classroom door barricades. Advocates are touting these devices as a way to lock out potential school shooters.

They are ignoring the very real dangers created if these barricades are used improperly or fall into the wrong hands.

  • Imagine that your daughter is forced into an empty high school classroom, the door is barricaded by another student and she is sexually assaulted.
  • Or perhaps your son is held hostage with his middle school class. A disturbed classmate with a weapon uses the barricade on the classroom door to hold authorities at bay.
  • Or maybe a non-custodial parent or disgruntled former employee with a grudge creates a commotion, and starts a fire in an elementary school. He then barricades the door to a class full of students.

Over the past few weeks, a battle has ensued in Ohio over whether state building codes should be changed to allow schools to use security barricades on classroom doors. In the Southwest Licking Local School District, parents raised $30,000 to buy barricades as part of an active shooter defense plan. But local building authorities and the State Board of Building Appeals both rejected the idea for safety reasons. That triggered outcries from parents. Two state senators are now calling for legislation to allow the use of barricade devices in schools.

State Commerce administrators have called for the Board of Building Standards to research the issue, consult with educators, safety experts and the public, and make recommendations on whether changes are needed.

State lawmakers would be wise to hold off on knee-jerk legislation, and let professional standards, best practices, and facts come from professionals who understand the greatest risks to school security on a day-to-day basis.

In litigation and other post-incident analysis, we often examine issues with an eye toward whether incidents were foreseeable, if preventative steps taken were reasonable, if the response was proper, and/or other factors unique to each case. In the education and school safety community, administrators and security professionals strive to balance reasonable risk reduction measures with the realities of operating child-centered, education-driven facilities that typically function as community centers in their neighborhoods.

Experienced school security experts tend to agree that effectively locked down classroom doors have not been breached by active shooters in the vast majority of preK-12 incidents over the years. Many threatening situations have been averted and/or had a positive outcome by following long-established best practices such as, but not limited to:

  • Quickly locking down classrooms, getting students away from windows, turning off lights, keeping students quiet, etc.
  • Diversifying lockdown drills so they are conducted at different times such as during lunch periods, upon student arrival in the morning, between class change, near dismissal, etc.
  • Having plans for controlled evacuations at the direction of school and public safety leaders
  • Providing first responders with updated floor plans and blueprints as a tactical resource
  • Facilitating police active shooter rapid deployment training in school facilities

While we encourage schools to include active shooters in their planning, most experts also emphasize an all-hazards approach, and planning for day-to-day security issues. While reasonable measures should be taken for active shooter planning, other security risks must also be factored into school safety policy and practice decisions.

This is especially the case when people start talking about changing state building and fire laws and codes. It is here that the words “foreseeable” and “reasonable” come into play. There are reasonable day-to-day supervision and security realities. And it is not hard to foresee the misuse of barricade devices. A security product “solution” could unintentionally lead to a student or teacher’s security nightmare.

Right now, anxious parents are contacting Ohio legislators, who may be tempted to make politically inspired changes in state laws. We hope they are also listening to safety experts and the Board of Building Standards about the pros and cons of current practices and proposed changes. Kids’ lives and personal safety depend upon it.

Ken Trump

National School Safety and Security Services

Experts You Can Trust! 

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