Deciding on the best and most effective way to approach safety and protecting students both outside and inside the classroom is a daunting task, especially with the mountain of information, products and advice coming at school systems from myriad sources. Thankfully, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS), was established in 2014 to bring together expertise from the education community, public safety and the security industry to develop and support a coordinated approach that can assist school administrators in making effective use of proven security practices specific to K-12 environments.
The sixth-edition release — including updates to the Safety and Security Guidelines and the School Safety and Security Checklist — improves on previous versions of the PASS guidance to make it more streamlined, easier to use and more reflective of K-12 schools’ evolving security needs and challenges.
PASS school security and safety guidelines provide school administrators, school boards and public safety and security professionals with a road map for implementing a layered and tiered approach to enhancing the safety of school environments and a tool to prioritize needs.
The mission of PASS is to provide school administrators, school boards and public safety and security professionals with information, tools and insight needed to implement a tiered approach to securing and enhancing the safety of school environments based on their individual needs, nationwide best practices, and making the most effective use of resources available.
It Takes a Village
In 2020, the PASS Advisory Council was formed to incorporate a broad range of stakeholder perspectives and expertise. Guy Grace, who has been involved with the creation of the PASS Guidelines since day one and currently serves on the PASS Advisory Council, explained, “All of us on the council work together for the greater good. We have experts from different security manufacturers, companies and consultants, as well as law enforcement, K-12 administrators and security directors … many stakeholders giving their time and sharing their experience and knowledge.”
Grace points out that while many school security experts from well-known manufacturers servie on the board, “I am proud that we're totally agnostic when it comes to recommending solutions or types of products or technology. The minute we start becoming non-agnostic, we've lost all credibility, so we have embraced this notion of working as a group toward this greater goal of providing school safety recommendations.”
Like Grace, Mark Berger, president of Securitech, a developer and manufacturer of high-security, code-complaint mechanical and electric locking solutions, serves on the PASS Advisory Board, and has spent his career volunteering his time for life safety causes.
“Schools are getting bombarded with a billion different people coming at them with this solution, that solution – how do you figure out what to do?” said Berger, pointing to the challenges that many educators face. “So, the Partner Alliance for Safe Schools, or PASS, brings together that needed expertise – manufacturers from different spaces, the electronic side, the physical side – all came together and said, ‘Let's work on developing a set of guidelines that are a good starting point, or beginning standard for schools.’ ”
With so much information being thrown at educators, Berger explained that the PASS guidelines show schools how to get organized, how to categorize and prioritize what needs to be done in a simple step-by-step process. The guidelines, he said, are designed to help administrators to best spend the limited funds they have as a school, while providing a clear path forward based on information that has been created from past experiences and lessons learned from past school tragedies.
“PASS gives you a foundation and then a way to take it up level by level,” he said. “Another thing to remember is that rarely are two schools exactly alike. There is no one-size-fits-all in the security world and especially in the school world. There are multiple doors, multiple locking scenarios, for example, that need to be addressed, and many times it is different for each school.”
The emphasis for this edition was on “getting back to basics,” added Grace, who served for 30 years as the director of security and emergency planning for Littleton Public Schools in Colorado. “When we look at building security with the access control and the locks, from the outside all the way to the classroom – that's the basics,” he said. “Those are the foundations of your perimeter, of your layered security approach. So, if you haven't done that first step, you should not be out there buying all this other stuff, like the more advanced security solutions and products, for example, which the latest edition of the guidelines addresses as well.”
The sixth-edition guidelines feature more focused best practice recommendations to identify needed areas of improvement by separating the tier continuum practices that are already required by federal law or regulation or are already uniformly implemented throughout the U.S. For example, the new edition has redesignated tiers for clarity, which recommends that all schools and districts work toward Tier One measures regardless of location, budget or risk profile. If Tier One measures are in place, all should work towards Tier Two. Tiers 3 and 4 measures may be needed depending on an assessment from the core security team.
The guidelines describe approaches within five physical layers for school facilities: districtwide, the property perimeter, the parking lot perimeter, the building perimeter and the classroom/interior perimeter. Within each layer, the resource outlines key safety and security components, such as policies and procedures, people (roles and training), architectural components, communication, access control, video surveillance and detection and alarms.
Classroom Door in Focus
Because the PASS Guidelines look at security from a layered perspective, they enable schools to easily breakdown each layer from the outside perimeter to the classroom itself. For the purposes of this article, we are focusing mostly on the changes in the PASS guidelines around the classroom door, particularly when it comes to recommendations for locks. The new edition includes enhancements to the section on classroom security, and is simplified and updated with current terminology, illustrations and recommendations consistent with modern, code-compliant door hardware and access control equipment.
As Ken Cook, Director of National School Safety and Advocacy for Allegion, points out in this month’s Cover story, Classroom Locks 101: Best Practices and the Future of School Security (see story starting on page 10), “traditional classroom function and storeroom function locks that limit locking and unlocking control to staff no longer meet all current best practice guidelines for school security.” Cook, who is serves on the PASS Advisory Council, provides an excellent overview of the current recommendations for classroom locks, which he notes are based on key guidelines, including the ability to quickly secure the door from inside the room by any occupant in an emergency; solutions that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and fire and life safety codes; ability to quickly and easily gain entry from outside the room by authorized school personnel or first responders with keys or credentials; and visual indicators to show locked or unlocked status.
One of the lessons learned from the last edition of the standards is how easily schools were able to override or compromise the traditional classroom function and stroreroom function locks (see page 10 for more detail on these types of locks) via magnets, or other methods.
“It's absolutely critical going forward that all occupants are able to lock a door in an emergency,” said Grace. “The evolution of what we've seen is that all of the stakeholders need to be empowered, and the way you can do that is by having locks and levers or push buttons that are code compliant.”
Grace went over many instances during past school shootings where lives could have been saved if students had had the ability to lock the doors during an emergency. Both Grace and Berger disagree with the argument that students will take advantage of the ability to lock the door during a non-emergency, because given the proper training and guidance, the result – better safety – is something that they have seen makes an impact on students, providing a better sense of overall security and control.
“This is something that's ingrained in me because we have learned the hard way that it's so important when we give staff and students that ability, that we empower them,” Grace asserted. “It was kind of like a sense of relief for many people because, you know, they were looking at the tools, but it wasn't just putting the locks on the doors. It was the training and preparing, which are things that need to happen – the processes and procedures are vitally important and is something that you'll see in the PASS guidelines.”
New Technologies Section
A new Enhanced Technologies section in the sixth edition details solutions under consideration by many schools and districts that show potential for making significant improvements to school safety but may not yet be widely adopted. These include newer technologies in the areas of weapons detection, analytics, emergency communications and biometrics.
“There's a lot of the higher-end technology that keeps getting developed and some great advances in technology that are proving to be very effective, so the new guidelines help schools make sense of this new technology,” said Berger, who added that he is excited by what he has seen in the areas of predictive analytics software and CCTV systems. “So, for example, you can see someone in the parking lot before they're getting to the door,” he said.
Grace is equally excited about the addition of the enhanced technologies section, noting some of the advancements in analytics and prohibitive items detection as an example. “I have a feeling that section is going to be growing every year because there's all kinds of new technologies that are emerging.”
While both Grace and Berger are excited about all the advancements in security-related technology, they are both quick to say how a school must first get back to basics before even considering higher end technologies.
“Before you go and buy those enhanced technologies, as yourself, ‘did I address all the basics?’” said Grace. “Did I do a risk assessment? Did I implement my locks and my access control? Did I put my cameras in the places that needed them? Those are the things that we're trying to emphasize with PASS.”
Berger added, “There are great advantages in those technologies on the top end. And then from the lock industry point of view, we are leading the cause of protecting students and helping them create a safe space known as the classroom.”
In 2020, the PASS guidelines were included on SchoolSafety.gov, the federal government’s clearinghouse for best practice information across a range of school safety topics, and in 2019 PASS was recognized by the Federal Commission on School Safety as well as in other state commissions and reports. Provided free of charge, the guidelines have been downloaded by thousands of stakeholders and leveraged in many districts to evaluate and improve security infrastructure and procedures.
While school tragedies continue to happen at a disturbing and mind-numbing rate, awareness around school safety and security has “improved drastically,” Grace said. “Why I say that is when we put electronic access control in my schools, for example, we reduced our crime rate and incidents of violence significantly. I would love to see a U.S. statistic on that if anybody ever tracked that nationwide, but based on my experience, I think that we've had a lot of good things happen from the implementations of these technologies.”
But with so much information and technology being given to schools, Grace implores those in charge of making these decisions to do their homework before making any big technology purchase. “They need to educate themselves on what they are going to purchase and bring in their schools because it could be a disaster waiting to happen.”
He continued, “Schools need to make sure they are doing it in a comprehensive, holistic way, and they are not doing it in a way that's turning a school into a prison. When we're not balanced in that approach, that's where we start to create quagmires and problems for schools.”
Grace emphasized that schools need to understand that “locks and electronic access control help to organize buildings, help maintain order,” he said. “We need to remember that they are going to need a place where they can have high academic performance, social activities, sports, etc., and that is going to include emergency preparedness and threat assessment and the lock and cameras, for example, but it is balanced.”
He added, “There is a strong correlation between safety and security and academic performance.”
Schools should be, and often are, the “pillars of the community,” Grace pointed out, the town hub where meetings are held for not only school activities but also community events and gatherings after hours. “Those schools are centerpieces of the community, and we need to prepare them and secure them the best way we can,” said Grace.
The PASS guidelines, checklist and other informational resources are available at passk12.org. Educators can also learn more about PASS or become a partner in support of its mission to protect schools.