Thank you to all who commented on my previous post about school seclusion rooms…please continue the conversation by adding your thoughts.  Here is the second school-related issue I mentioned yesterday.

Most schools include classrooms for students with special needs – in our elementary school there are inclusion classrooms accommodating a mix of children, and separate classrooms which primarily serve children with disabilities.  I’ve been asked several times lately how to address the possibility of students “running” or “wandering”…leaving the safety of the school building unsupervised.

In October of 2013, a 14-year-old boy with autism left his school in Long Island City, and was found months later, deceased.  His story is detailed in the New York Magazine article: The Boy Who Ran: The Life and Death of Avonte Oquendo.  In this case, the child left the school through the main entrance, passing the school security officer who was distracted with another student and parent.  When the child was discovered missing, the school was locked down and searched, and an intensive exterior search was not immediately conducted.  Based on this evidence, the issues here seem to be more procedural rather than related to physical security.  But this case, and the increased accommodation of students with special needs, have led to recent discussions about how to keep these children safe in school.

ClassroomWhen considering the possible solutions for containing a student who might be at risk of “eloping”, there are different considerations based on the areas of the school the student might be using – the individual classroom, an assembly space like the cafeteria or gym, the main entrance, and emergency exits.  I have no doubt that a child could leave our elementary school unnoticed.  It’s easy to point fingers at staff and question the lack of supervision, but I spend a fair amount of time in our school and with 600+ kids it is very difficult to keep tabs on each one at all times.

Even if we only consider the space with the smallest occupant load – the classroom, the codes do not give us many options for preventing a student from eloping.  If the classroom has an exterior door that is required for egress, it can not be locked in the direction of egress.  Delayed egress is an option that is allowed by NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code, but delayed egress locks are NOT allowed by the International Building Code (IBC) on doors serving Educational occupancies.  (Note:  The 2018 edition of the IBC does allow delayed egress locks on school classrooms with an occupant load of less than 50 people.)  Alarms would be acceptable by code, but may not be effective considering the potential for false alarms which could affect staff response.

Each time this question has come up, we’ve explored many ideas from audible or visible alarms, to requesting approval for delayed egress locks, to the possibility of a wander prevention system.  For younger children, we’ve talked about hardware mounted higher on the door (48 inches is the maximum allowed by code) or increased opening force for the door closer (15 pounds is typically the maximum for exterior doors in most states).  Many of these alternative measures would require approval from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).  I would really appreciate some insight from all of you into what has been done in your jurisdiction, or ideas you may have that would help keep kids safe.

  • How do we keep kids from leaving school, in a manner that is acceptable to the AHJ?

  • Does the proposed solution vary for classrooms vs. other spaces in the school? 

  • How do we balance the need for life safety and egress for all of the building occupants, with the need to prevent student elopement?

Photo: Lost and Tired

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