When it comes to school shootings, a locked classroom door has never breached.
That fact from local law enforcement is part of what drove West Ada School District to adopt a new policy this school year: All teachers lock their classroom doors – all day, every day.
It’s a change that might seem minor, but could be life-saving.
The added safety measure is becoming more common as American school shootings mount, including the recent St. Louis fatality that left a teacher and student dead, the Uvalde shooting that shook the nation last spring, and the May 2021 shooting at Idaho’s Rigby Middle School.
The potential daily hassles and distractions – frequent knocking and door-getting – are worth it for the extra security, district officials say.
“We take the safety of students very seriously; it’s one of our No. 1 priorities,” said Nick Smith, West Ada’s deputy superintendent. “A little inconvenience for the safety of our students is something we’re willing to take on.”
Siena Elementary embraces the change
Before West Ada’s policy change, many teachers locked their doors, but slid a magnet over the door jamb so students could still freely enter and exit the room.
The idea was that the magnet could quickly be pulled to lock the doors – a quicker method than moving out to the hallway to lock the door with a key.
However, that technique would still require a teacher to potentially cross the room to pull the magnet, or a nearby student to quickly identify the need to do so and act.
Nerves are another factor. In the event of a shooting, teachers’ “fine motor skills would be diminished,” Smith said. Simple tasks like pulling a magnet would become more difficult.
Having the doors already locked means teachers could immediately focus on protecting the kids instead of on securing the classroom, Siena Elementary School principal Kacey Schneidt said.
“Parents are super in favor of it, they love that safety piece,” Schneidt said.
All the classrooms in Siena Elementary have a window next to the door that provides a view into the hallway. When a knock comes at the door, students use the window to look out and make sure they recognize the person on the other side. If they do, they open the door.
But there have been some bumps on the road. Students sometimes forget to pull the doors closed when they leave to go to the bathroom, for example, especially in kindergarten and first grade.
Door-knocking and getting have also created more interruptions. But Carissa Yesford, a second-grade teacher at Siena Elementary, has embraced the new change.
“With everything that’s happening around the world, I don’t know why I’d want to refuse to lock the door because taking extra precautions is protecting my students and myself,” Yesford said. “My mindset toward safety has changed drastically (over the years).”
Yesford has been teaching for 20 years and said she’s watched schools go from being completely open with anyone allowed to come and go, to being completely locked down and with ID badges required.
Events are still held at schools, and those after-hours parent nights or festivals are a more appropriate time to open up schools to the community.
Schneidt added that in some ways, the locked doors have minimized distractions for learners. For example, some students who had a tendency to leave their own classrooms and wander into another can no longer do that. And if a student is being loud in the hallway, the noise doesn’t interrupt nearby classes.
Locked doors are just one of a number of safety precautions
This year, West Ada also implemented the See Tell Now! threat reporting system. Every school’s website has a See Tell Now! button that parents, patrons, and students can click to submit a report about safety concerns. Any district in the state can use the tip line program for free.
District leaders have also started conducting safety audits of all buildings. Officials will arrive unannounced at a given school and check to see that exterior doors are locked and that appropriate protocols are in place for guest check-in – such as asking for a guest’s identification, running it through the RAPTOR system, and printing out a badge for that individual to wear while in the school.
After the safety audit, the official visits with the principal of that building about any concerns.
Mike Munger, the program manager for Idaho School Safety and Security, said all school districts are encouraged to conduct regular drills. Fire code requires monthly drills. Otherwise, his office recommends schools practice the following drills at the beginning of each semester or trimester: evacuation; reverse evacuation; hall check; and lockdown. Descriptions of what those drills entail can be found here.
In terms of other safety measures, most schools have a school resource officer available. Some districts have hired armed body guards or allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus.
The changes have come as schools work to protect students and staff as school shootings increase nationwide. According to Education Week, there have already been 40 school shootings that resulted in injuries or deaths this year — more than any other since the organization began tracking the incidents in 2018.