Troubleshooters: KY & IN don’t require schools have classroom door locks that lock from inside

The door locks have been recommended since Sandy Hook, but 25% of public schools do not have them.
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 2:10 PM CDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The classroom door the shooter entered in the Uvalde Texas elementary school did not latch properly, making the lock useless.

Teachers could also only lock their doors a specific way, from the outside.

Neither Kentucky nor Indiana require schools to have classroom doors that can be locked from the inside, although that is the number one recommendation following the Sandy Hook massacre.

In Scottsburg, Superintendent Marc Slaton demonstrated a key part of his school district’s active shooter strategy. Small crescent shaped plastic pieces that hold locked classroom doors ajar. They can be pulled off in seconds when an alarm sounds.

“Our doors our locked and these are just clipped on the door, and in the event of a lockdown, we just pull this off the door, the door quickly shuts with the closure piece and we’re locked down in under 10 seconds,” said Slaton.

It’s simple, consistent across the district and violates Indiana’s fire code.

“When we first started these, at the very next inspection, we did get written up for a fire code violation,” said Slaton.

Doors cannot be propped open. But, like districts across our area, Slaton’s district has buildings of various ages, with different locking hardware.

“We have a hodgepodge or potpourri of different door types, some lock on the inside, some lock on the outside,” said Slaton.

He looked at retrofitting all his district’s classroom doors with locksets that can be locked from the inside of the classroom. They’ve been around for decades. But across the country the latest education data show one in four public schools do not have classroom doors that can be locked from the inside.

“It was just cost prohibitive,” said Slaton.

Uvalde teachers told investigators they had to open their classroom doors to make sure they were locked.

“Whenever one of these tragedies happen, the phone rings off the hook,” said Schiller Hardware President Scott Wesley.

Schiller Hardware supplies schools across Kentucky with all types of door locks.

“In case of an active shooter, you don’t want the teacher to have to open the door to reach outside to figure out whether the lock is locked,” said Wesley.

He showed WAVE a couple models.

Pricier versions come with indicators showing whether the handle is locked. But the goal is the same, quickly lock the door without having to open it first.

“To run from the desk over, should be just a matter of seconds,” said Wesley.

Installing these types of locks is the number one recommendation following the Sandy Hook massacre. But Wesley said school districts constantly run into the same problem.

“It’s money, it comes down to money,” said Wesley.

Kentucky lawmakers passed a comprehensive school safety law in 2019 and backed it up with money the following year. While the big focus was on school resource officers, classroom doors did not go unnoticed.

“I wanted to have shall be locked, but we had pushback, so we went with should,” Executive Director Jon Akers with the Kentucky Center for School Safety said.

He helped convince lawmakers to update the law.

“If a person could come in through an exterior door, into a building how many doors could they push open and do bad things before you could call a lockdown,” said Akers.

The law now requires Kentucky schools to keep classroom doors closed and locked while class is in session. But it does not require those doors to be capable of being locked from the inside.

“That’s a preference, but it’s not a situation which we’re going to tell schools that have all these locks that are older fashioned locks so to speak that are incapable of being locked from the inside,” Akers said. “I’ll circle back around and say if we go ahead and preset those locks from the outside, then the point is moot.”

Kentucky backs up the law with inspections. The latest report from the State School Security Marshal showed 14 schools did not meet that requirement this year. 19 didn’t have the right hardware installed.

“The numbers this year are better than the numbers last year,” said Marshal Ben Wilcox.

Last year 98 schools weren’t keeping their classroom doors locked. 70 didn’t have the right hardware. Wilcox said his investigators don’t just mark a violation and move on.

“We ask the school to give us a call back when the issue has been fixed for two reasons, if it’s a hardware issue, that issue may take a day or two to get fixed,” said Wilcox.

And they’ll follow up to ensure the problem is fixed.

“We felt good about our door plan,” said Superintendent Marc Slaton.

Indiana does not require these types of locks either. It does offer school safety grants to districts maxing out at $100,000. Slaton has used those grants to pay for school resource officers instead of new door locks.

“We just felt strongly about already having that law enforcement officer already on scene in the event they need to respond to a situation,” said Slaton.

And the district appealed the fire code violation to a state board. The state approved a waiver for the district to use the pinch guards twice now. Slaton conducts lockdown drills monthly and he’s happy with the results.

“Our staff and our kids pull the pinch guards and we’re locked down pretty instantaneously,” said Slaton.

Both Kentucky and Indiana also have tip lines to report school safety concerns.

Parents can also check their child’s classroom door at parent teacher conferences.