A few years ago, I received a legal opinion from an attorney about the responsibilities of schools to provide adequate security and safety for everyone on the premises – staff, students, parents, and visitors. I asked for this opinion in relation to the use of security products which violate the model code requirements for free egress, fire safety, and accessibility, but the legal opinion also applies to other security measures. You can find this legal opinion here:
At the time the liability piece was written, there were not as many cases to cite during the research as I would have expected, given the number of crimes that are committed in schools each year. This lack of lawsuits, or minimal publicity for the incidents, may give the wrong impression about crime and liability in schools. Several manufacturers of classroom barricade products have called me recently and some have given me the impression that they think I’m taking the potential unintended consequences too seriously (for the record, I don’t think I am).
In 2013, there was a horrific and tragic crime committed not far from where I was living at the time. A teacher at Danvers (MA) High School, Colleen Ritzer, was assaulted and killed by a 9th-grader in a school restroom. Note that the crime was not committed by an intruder…it was a student – someone who was authorized to be in the school during the afternoon “help block” when students could get help with their schoolwork.
Last week, the family of Colleen Ritzer filed a lawsuit against the town of Danvers, the school department, the architectural firm that designed the new wing of the school where the teacher was killed, and the cleaning company whose employees cleaned the restroom after the attack instead of calling police. The family is not seeking personal financial benefit from the lawsuit. Although locks and other types of locking devices do not seem to be part of this case, the suit references security cameras which had been installed but were not working properly and were not monitored the afternoon of the attack. The images recorded on the cameras clearly showed the student’s suspicious actions for more than an hour. There is more information on this case in this article from The Salem News.
I hope this case and other suits that we will likely see in the future will encourage school administrators to not only install the right systems and create policies to help ensure school safety, but to enforce these policies and utilize the security that has been installed. Whether it’s access control, classroom locks, cameras, or another type of product designed to keep schools safe and secure, installation is just the beginning. And if someone is considering the use of a security product that is not code-compliant or could be used to create a hazardous situation, I hope they will think again.
My heart goes out to the Ritzer family – I can’t imagine the pain of their loss. I will be watching this case closely to see what our industry can learn from it.