A few months ago, a classroom barricade device manufacturer asked if I had any examples to support my claim that a barricade device could be used by an unauthorized person to lock a classroom door and commit a crime.  I asked him whether he had any examples of a barricade device being used to prevent an active shooter from entering a classroom.  To date, I don’t have a concrete example of either.

Unfortunately, we probably won’t hear about a barricade device being used – with negative OR positive effects – until there is a tragedy.  As someone pointed out recently – why would anyone publicize the inappropriate use of something they have invested thousands of dollars in, that does not comply with current model codes and could increase their liability if it was used improperly?

Sometimes we can’t wait for concrete examples – we have to look at the potential risks and be proactive without going overboard.  I probably won’t get into a car accident today, but I will wear my seat belt on my way to the grocery store.  I won’t, however, go to Home Depot and buy materials to create my own 5-point safety harness because my seat belt might not be strong enough to prevent injury.  Doing so might make me feel like I was more secure, but there would be no way to know if my homemade harness would offer more protection than the seat belt, and maybe it would jam and prevent my escape after an accident.

I know that school districts are trying to be proactive about security when selecting alternative locking methods for classroom doors.  I am positive that everyone is working toward the common goal of keeping students and teachers safe.  But let’s stop for a minute and think about the potential risks.  This month, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released its 2018 report on Indicators of School Crime and Safety, which contains school crime statistics for 2017.  The FBI has published a report that lists active-shooter incidents in schools (and other facilities) for 2017.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • According to the NCES, how many victimizations (theft and nonfatal violent victimizations) were experienced by students ages 12-18 in 2017?
  • According to the FBI, how many active shooter incidents occurred in educational facilities in 2017?

Really think about these two numbers.  How likely is it that non-code-compliant security methods might be used in a theft or nonfatal violent victimization (including rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault)?  And conversely, what are the chances that a barricade device will prevent an active shooter from entering a classroom?  Many times when I’ve asked a friend to take a guess, they thought the number of active shooter incidents was much higher than it actually is, and they grossly underestimated the number of crimes that occur in schools.

Here are the answers:

The NCES report states that in 2017, it is estimated that students ages 12–18 experienced about 827,000 total victimizations (i.e., theft and nonfatal violent victimization) at school.  According to the FBI, there were 4 active shooter incidents in educational facilities in 2017, with 3 fatalities and 9 injuries.  Each and every one of those active shooter incidents is tragic, and even one casualty is too many.  But almost 100% of schools will have one or more incidents of crime at some point, and far less than 1% of schools have experienced an active-shooter incident.  We can not overlook the potential for misuse of non-code-compliant security.

Here’s an example.  I’m sure we have all heard about old fire hoses being cut up and donated to schools so they can be put on the door closer arm to prevent the door from being opened.  I have so many concerns about this practice.  In addition to possible misuse, how strong are these pieces of fire hose?  Or is the closer arm the weak link?  Or the screws attaching the closer shoe to the door?  Do old fire hoses actually secure the door, or is it just a perception of security to make us all feel better (like my homemade safety harness)?

A couple of weeks ago I read an article about a lawsuit (hence the title of this blog post).  A special education teacher in Washington state alleges that the building administrator in her school used a piece of fire hose on the door closer – which was mounted on the outside of the room – to confine her and a student within the classroom:

School employees struggled to contain the boy’s behavior, according to documents. He was known to try to run away from school and could also fly into rages and punch and kick staff. Maki wrote in the documents that the room was stripped of all unnecessary furnishings and equipment.

“I told my building administrator that I would not barricade myself in,” Maki wrote in notes from the time of the alleged incidents. “I further told her that I was uncomfortable with the plan and didn’t believe it to be safe or keeping with district policies,” Maki wrote. “My building administrator locked me in the room with the student using a modified fire hose which she slipped over the door hinge. This was done against my will.”

The door to the classroom was not locked, but instead a short length of fire hose was slipped over the hydraulic arm that prevents the door from slamming. The lengths of hoses were provided to schools as part of a safety plan. In case of an active shooter they could be used to prevent an intruder from entering classrooms. When installed they prevent the door from being fully opened. The door on the special education classroom opened into the hallway, however, so the hydraulic arm was on the outside.

It’s only a matter of time before we see the unintended consequences of non-code-compliant, untested, unregulated security devices.  What keeps me awake at night is fear for the victims who will pay the price before we finally understand the cost of continuing to ignore the warnings.

Photo: KGUN 9

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