THE INVESTIGATORS: School leaders working to close gap in security ahead of upcoming year
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The new school year is about to start and as kids get ready to head back to the classroom, the 9News Investigators uncovered one key element of their safety that might be missing, specifically when it comes to the classroom doors.
WAFB checked at a couple of schools, including in East Baton Rouge. If someone was to get into the school, the 9News Investigators wanted to know if their classroom doors be locked from the inside. Ben Lemoine, Director of Communications for EBR Schools, says the answer is no.
“We know we do have some deficiencies,” said Lemoine. “There are things that have got to be implemented and there are corrections to be made.”
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Lemoine if those doors that do not lock from the inside pose a vulnerability for those classrooms.
“Of course. Yeah, I mean if students are stuck in a classroom and there’s no way to lock the door from the inside, yes, that’s a vulnerability and that’s why we’re addressing it,” said Lemoine.
Lemoine says they have spent the entire summer combing through their schools to identify gaps in security. One of their top priorities is to equip their classrooms with doors that lock from the inside.
“Right now there’s just nothing in place and that’s why we’re making these evaluations and assessments and we’re going to decide exactly how to implement that across the board for the entire district,” said Lemoine.
They are not the only ones dealing with the problem. Across the parish, Zachary Community Schools superintendent Scott Devillier says their doors could also use an upgrade.
“You know, there’s not a way to lock the door from the inside,” said Devillier. “It’s only a way to lock it from the outside.”
The concern is over what happens in the event of an emergency. For now, Devillier says their policy is for teachers to keep their doors secure as best they can by keeping the door locked from the outside and making sure the door is shut.
“Because if something does happen we don’t want the teacher to open the door, have to go outside try to lock it and then close it back so we keep it locked at all times,” said Devillier.
Recently, when the tragic scene played out in Uvalde, Texas at Robb Elementary one teacher had to leave the safety of her classroom, go out into the hallway and lock her door. She was alone in the hallway moments before the gunman entered the same hallway. While the students in that classroom were ultimately saved, the time she took trying to secure the room actually left her and her students vulnerable. According to national data, about one in every four classroom doors can only be locked from the outside which means the chances are high that area teachers could face the same risk.
Sean Burke is the president of the School Safety Advocacy Council. He creates school safety plans across the country.
“If we have that locked door that’s already locked and locked from the inside, that is less the teacher has to do and can spend more time on focusing and keeping the kids safe,” Burke said.
Burke believes that an emergency situation is not the time for a teacher to be scrambling to lock a door.
“The problem is, under stress the body has some natural responses. Our adrenaline comes up, we lose the workings of our fingers sometimes and we can’t correctly or we get tunnel vision and only focus on one thing. So if we can cut down on the duties, it’s going to be more effective at keeping your kids safe,” said Burke.
State Fire Marshal Daniel Wallis recently sent out guidance to schools across the state encouraging them to upgrade their security. Doors that lock from the inside was on the list.
“Well certainly in 2018 when we initially sent it out, there were unprecedented situations that were taking place when our school children were very vulnerable to these active shooter situations and unfortunately it hasn’t stopped,” said Wallis.
Some school leaders WAFB spoke with say they are already taking steps to add an extra layer of security to area school classrooms.
“That’s something that we’re looking at very closely and we’re trying to develop a list of priorities,” said Lemoine. “That is very near the top, if not, at the top.”
WAFB did reach out to Ascension and Livingston schools for this report. Representatives with both school systems say they do not publicly discuss their security measures.
Click here to report a typo.
Copyright 2022 WAFB. All rights reserved.