Classroom Security – Best Practices

May 2, 2018
While lockdown is important, free egress and the ability to quickly evacuate must not be compromised

In the aftermath of each school shooting, there is increased attention on school security measures. Locksmiths may be asked to share their expertise with school administrators and facility managers who are facing pressure to shore up existing security protocols. In some cases, school districts are considering the use of classroom barricade devices or other retrofit security measures, which may have unintended consequences that negatively impact the safety of building occupants. When called upon for advice, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

School shootings are relatively rare. While even one school shooting is one too many, the feeling that the next school shooting is imminent can lead to rushed decisions made in a panic. The news media has an influential impact on the public’s perception of school safety and security – and this is exacerbated by social media. By mid-February of this year, the headlines reported that there had already been 18 school shootings in 2018. In reality, only three of those incidents involved multiple gunshots resulting in deaths or injuries inside of a school. Of course, three school shootings in six weeks are cause for great concern, but the assumption that our kids are at high risk of not returning home from school each day is fueling the rush to add security without considering all aspects of the problem.

We must take an all-hazards approach to school security. There are many potential hazards to consider when planning for school safety and security; intruder situations are statistically less likely to happen than many of the others. Administrators must address the possibility of windstorm events and other weather-related emergencies, fires and bomb threats, chemical spills, mental health issues, drug and alcohol-related incidents, suicide, vandalism, bullying, fights and other non-fatal victimizations. Free egress and the ability to quickly evacuate must not be compromised when establishing protocols and procedures for various types of hazards.

There is a much higher risk of non-fatal victimizations at school vs. school-related homicides. According to the 2016 Indicators of School Crime and Safety, published by the National Center for Education Statistics, “A total of 48 student, staff, and nonstudent school-associated violent deaths occurred between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, which included 26 homicides, 20 suicides, 1 legal intervention death and 1 undetermined violent death. Of these 48 school-associated violent deaths, 12 homicides and 8 suicides were of school-age youth (ages 5–18).” In comparison, the same report states, “In 2015, among students ages 12–18, there were about 841,100 nonfatal victimizations (theft and violent victimization) at school.” Employing security methods which focus only on protection against intruders is short-sighted and risky.

Unauthorized lockdown can increase risk and liability. It has been documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the majority of school-related violence is committed by students – typically individuals who are authorized to be on school grounds. Schools and other facilities are required by law to keep their premises safe for building occupants. If a student or teacher is injured or killed at school because someone is able to use a classroom barricade device or other method to secure a classroom and commit a crime while delaying the response of staff members or law enforcement, a school district may be held responsible because their duty of care has not been met. Even in states where legislators or code officials have modified state codes to reduce the cost of security by allowing classroom barricade devices, a school district may be exposing itself to the possibility of a lawsuit if those devices are used to impede egress.

Model codes require free egress, accessibility, and fire protection. For decades, the model codes adopted in jurisdictions across the U.S. have required doors in a means of egress to unlatch with one operation, without the use of a key, tool, special knowledge or effort. The 2018 editions of these codes also require the ability for an authorized person to unlock a locked classroom door from the outside using a key or other approved means. To meet national accessibility requirements, hardware must be operable without tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist, and releasing hardware must be mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor. For fire doors, all components are required to be tested and certified to UL 10C or NFPA 252, indicating that they are acceptable for use as part of a fire door assembly. Each of these requirements must be considered when evaluating potential locking devices.

Locks save lives. In each school shooting, we learn new lessons about physical security. From the shootings at Virginia Tech, Platte Canyon High School, and the West Nickel Mines Amish Schoolhouse, we learned that when active shooters take hostages and barricade themselves inside with their victims, law enforcement response can be delayed and the number of casualties may increase. From Sandy Hook we learned that teachers – including substitute teachers – MUST have the ability to lock their classroom doors quickly; we also learned that the glass adjacent to school entrance doors is a weak point and must be addressed.  From Red Lake High School we learned that sidelights and vision lights in classroom doors should have impact-resistant glazing to deter access to the inside lever or touchpad.   From Marshall County High School we learned that the ability to evacuate freely may reduce casualties, and from Rancho Tehama Elementary School we learned that locked doors can delay or prevent a shooter from entering a school.

We will learn more about the shooting in Parkland, Florida, as official information becomes available in the coming months.  For now, we only have news reports and eyewitness accounts to learn from.  And what is evident from those accounts is that many of the classroom doors were closed and locked when the shooting occurred.  While it is horrific to read that shots were fired through the glass, killing and injuring students and teachers who were in the line of fire, the doors were not opened and the shooter did not enter the classrooms.  If he had, the number of fatalities would have undoubtedly been much higher.  The locks that protected those lives were traditional locksets – not retrofit gadgets that secure the door but also deter or prevent egress and evacuation as well as delaying law enforcement response.

Options for Securing Classroom Doors

While physical security is only one piece of the puzzle, it’s critical to provide an acceptable level of security to delay access to the school from the exterior, compartmentalize the building to help limit the movement of an assailant, protect large assembly spaces such as gymnasiums and cafeterias without impacting evacuation, and deter entrance to classrooms and other spaces.

There are various ways to secure classroom doors without compromising on safety, but for existing schools, the locks that are currently in place could affect security decisions. There are pros and cons to each of the lock functions that are commonly used on classroom doors, so the selection of a particular lock must be based on the specific needs of the facility.

Following are the functions most often used on classroom doors – note that all of these locks allow free egress and evacuation at all times.

Classroom Security Locks – This function incorporates a key cylinder on both the outside lever and the inside lever. The cylinder on the inside lever is used to lock or unlock the outside lever, so a teacher or other authorized person with a key can lock the door without opening it. Because a key is required in order to lock the door, a policy must be adopted which requires staff members to carry their keys at all times; frequent drills can also help reduce lockdown time by increasing familiarity with the locking process. An indicator on the classroom side of the lock will confirm whether the lock is locked, reassuring teachers that their classroom doors are secure.

Classroom Locks – These locks were very common for several decades, as they addressed the problem of students tampering with an inside thumbturn or push button. Because the only method of locking the door is for teachers to open the door and insert a key in the outside cylinder, many schools have adopted a policy of keeping the outside lever locked at all times. If these procedures are followed, a closed door is a locked door. While this may be inconvenient at times, it is a way to increase security without replacing existing classroom function locksets.

Storeroom Locks – For some facilities, the risk of “operator error” or failure to follow procedures requiring classroom locks to be kept in the locked position, has led to the installation of storeroom function locksets. The outside lever can never be left in the unlocked position, so it’s guaranteed that if the door is closed, it is locked. Some existing locks can be changed from one function to another without replacing the entire lock, so it may be possible to change existing locks to storeroom function. Again, the disadvantage is lack of convenience, as the door will need to be opened by the teacher or another student if someone needs to enter the classroom when the door is closed.

Entrance/Office Function – Some schools prefer to allow anyone to lock the classroom door, in case the teacher is not present or is not near the door when an incident occurs. An entrance/office function lock has a thumbturn or a push-button on the inside, which locks the outside lever without the use of a key. Although this can increase the lockdown speed, concerns about unauthorized lockdown must be considered. Rules with appropriate consequences should be implemented to discourage students from locking the doors, and staff members must carry keys to allow immediate access to locked classrooms.

Corridor Locks with Integral Deadbolt – A deadbolt may provide some added security, although it hasn’t been proven necessary in any of the past school shootings where teachers had the ability to lock classroom doors using a standard lockset (without deadbolt). One important consideration is that during a school shooting, a teacher may need to open the classroom door and allow students to enter from the hallway if it is safe to do so. The door must then be re-secured quickly – preferably the outside lever remains locked when the door is opened. Reengaging the deadbolt could take extra time.

Electronic Access Control – These locks may be wireless or hard-wired, and may be part of a networked access-control system or may be standalone locks. The features of each system can vary, but the most important capabilities to consider for classroom security are the ability to lock the doors quickly – both locally (in the classroom) and remotely (from the office). The access control system may also have the ability to automatically send a signal to law enforcement when the system goes into lockdown.

Solutions for existing classroom doors may involve adopting and practicing security procedures, rekeying and/or key distribution, increasing the impact-resistance of glazing, and/or upgrading locksets. When making these decisions, considering all of the potential concerns and consequences will help to ensure that safety is not overlooked in the rush to increase security. The Final Report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission states: “The testimony and other evidence presented to the Commission reveals that there has never been an event in which an active shooter breached a locked classroom door.” Traditional locks provide the necessary level of security, while complying with the requirements for free egress, accessibility, and fire protection. A rushed response based on fear can lead to a decision that results in a false sense of security and may have unintended consequences. 

Lori Greene, DAHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, FDHI is the Manager - Codes and Resources for Allegion. For more information about this topic and to download a free reference guide on codes, visit

About the Author


Lori Greene, DAHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, FDHI, is manager, codes and resources at Allegion. Visit her website,