Locks On All Classroom Doors Beat Bulletproof Backpacks

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Shootings – Locks At Schools Beat Bulletproof Backpacks Hands Down; Parents Should Pressure Legislators and School Boards For Locks on All Classroom Doors 

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (August 5, 2019) –  No doubt further galvanized by the two most recent mass murders, and already frightened by the ever growing number of deadly school shootings, parents are increasingly snapping up bulletproof backpacks for $400 – a new fad reports the Washington Post – and are even considering bulletproof hoodies for their children.

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But there's a far better and much less expensive option which many schools have already adopted, some legislatures have mandated, and some PTAs and local civic organizations are now considering sponsoring as part of their public service outreach, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

More than a half-dozen manufacturers now make bulletproof backpacks for kids, ranging from elementary to high schoolers, with prices starting around $130 and going up to $400 or more. These increasingly popular products also have caught on with college students, as have so-called ballistic shields designed to fit into school backpacks.

It's no wonder, notes Banzhaf, since a survey more than a year ago showed that already 74% of parents said they were worried about a shooting at their child's school just that year, and at least 20% admitted to purchasing some form of ballistic protection for their children.  This is not surprising, since, in 2018 alone, there were 24 school shootings in which there were injuries or deaths.

But, in many ways, the best, and also by far the most effective, from the perspective of the many experts noted below, is to be sure that classroom doors can be easily and quickly locked from the inside.

At least one leading state, California, has gone so far as to mandate that all classrooms must have doors which can be locked from the inside, at least regarding future construction.  The legislature took their step at the urging of the California Federation of Teachers, California Teachers Association, and California School Employees Association, and with no formal opposition.

The official legislative findings supporting the law said that "the locks in most school classrooms, offices, and other rooms where pupils and staff gather can be locked only from the outside, and the safety of school staff and pupils could be placed in jeopardy if school staff is required to go out into a hallway to lock doors during a violent incident. . . .  Locking mechanisms that lock a door from the inside, commonly referred to as classroom security locks, have been developed to quickly lock doors to classrooms, offices, and other rooms from the inside."

Indeed, while there are several types of locking mechanisms developed especially for schools, the common type of door lock (technically "latch") found in most hotels and motels - where the guest simply swings a latch horizontally to engage a ball-tipped prong - is as good as any, meets all the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA], and will lock both single- and double-door classrooms securely.

It is also simple enough to be operated even by young children who might find themselves in a classroom without a teacher during an active shooter alert, or by an older child with a physical disability.

Best of all, since such locks are readily available from many sources for under $20 each, the cost to protect a student in a typical classroom of over 20 students is less than $1.

This is far less per student than any other measures, and almost certainly far more effective than relying upon young children with bulletproof backpacks, and even teachers with guns or chemical sprays, to act appropriately and effectively in a panic situation when an active shooter is detected.

It is obviously also far less expensive, even after allowing for the minimal costs of adding these latches to doors with or without existing locks, than the "active-shooter" insurance policies which schools are now purchasing at costs reportedly starting at about $1,800 for $1 million in coverage.

Given both the very real school-shooting risk (more than 187,000 students at 193 schools have experienced a school shooting since Columbine) and the much higher perceived risk (almost 3/4th of parents worry about a shooting at their own child's school each and every year), it is not surprising that many concerned about children's safety are not willing to simply wait for a state or for local school boards, and are pressuring the legislators and boards to mandate locks now, regardless of possible gun control measures which might one day be passed,

Here's what the experts say.

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission recommended that "all classrooms in K-12 schools should be equipped with locked doors that can be locked from the inside."

Likewise, the National Association of State Fire Marshals - which has frequently expressed concerns about children or even teachers not being able to escape in time in the event of a school fire, or of first responders not being able to reach people trapped inside - nevertheless strongly recommends that "to help protect teachers and students in the classroom, the classroom door should be lockable from in the classroom without requiring the door to be opened."

The GUARDIAN has reported that "once a shooter is in a building, most security experts agree getting into a locked room is one of the most effective deterrents against getting injured or shot."   Indeed, in no school shooting incident has a locked classroom door been breached, since the gunman doesn't want to waste time trying to force it open, and shooting a lock off is easier said than done, suggests Banzhaf.

Similarly USA TODAY advised that "security experts say locks go a long way toward keeping out danger.  You have to think in terms of we've got to have the least amount of tragedy and the most amount of saving, and that may be this key situation, . . .  Interior locks may have saved lives during a 2005 school shooting on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota."

Even regarding shooting risks at colleges and universities, INSIDE HIGHER ED quoted the  President of Crisis Reality Training as saying that "while it is impossible to eliminate risk entirely, in his experience locks absolutely work. People are able to secure themselves in rooms and shooters haven't been able to get to them."  And the magazine CAMPUS SAFETY urged its readers that "it is vital for staff to be able to successfully secure classrooms from the inside to protect students from potential threats."

So concerned parents should press for locks on all classroom doors before rushing out to buy bulletproof backpacks or hoodies for their children, suggests Banzhaf.

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