School Climate & Safety

3 Reasons Many Schools Don’t Have Classroom Doors That Lock From the Inside

By Lauraine Langreo — August 08, 2022 2 min read
A section of a classroom door from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is seen as Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw testifies at a Texas Senate hearing at the state capitol, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Two teachers and 19 students were killed in the mass shooting in Uvalde.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Robb Elementary School, in Uvalde, Texas, where a shooter killed 21 people in May, had problems with locks on both interior classroom doors and entrances and exits to the school building, according to a report from a special committee of the Texas legislature.

Among the issues cited in the report: The building had a classroom door system that required teachers to lock their doors from the outside using a key to secure their classrooms when they weren’t in them.

But Robb Elementary isn’t alone in this. About 1 in 4 public schools in the United States lack classroom doors that can be locked from the inside, according to the most recent data from the National Center on Education Statistics, from the 2019-20 school year.

See also

Fifth grade teachers Edith Bonazza, left, and Patricia Castro teach their students at Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood, Ill., part of the North Shore school district, on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.
Twenty-five percent of U.S. public schools lack classroom doors that can be locked from the inside, according to the most recent data from the National Center on Education Statistics.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Here’s what school facilities experts told Education Week about what’s keeping schools from changing their classroom door-locking approaches.

1. There’s a lack of finances amid competing priorities

Although the United States invested $795 billion of local, state, and federal money into its K-12 public schools for the 2019-20 school year, according to annual federal school spending data published in May, only 10 percent went toward construction, renovation, and maintenance of school facilities.

With that funding, school facilities experts told Education Week that district leaders have to decide where to use the money and which issues are most important to fix to keep students and staff safe inside the school building.

Replacing all the classroom door locks in a school building could use up a district’s maintenance budget for the school year. But not having doors that lock from the inside isn’t usually the only problem in a school building. There might be an HVAC system that needs updating or a leaky roof that needs fixing. Some school facilities experts said sometimes it’s safer or more important to fix those other issues than put a lock on a door.

2. It’s a huge logistical lift

School facilities experts said there’s more to changing door locks than just putting in a new locking device on a door. Schools may also need to replace the whole structure, including the door, the door frame, and the lockset, because they all have to be compatible. Schools also have to think about the staffing needed to change the locks on hundreds of doors in a school and what the maintenance will be like when locks break.

District leaders also have to think about which classroom door-locking mechanism will work best under all the building safety regulations, including fire safety codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fire safety regulations require that schools have doors that allow people to have a one-motion egress, and the ADA requires that door hardware allow for one-hand operation and not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist.

3. It’s not a foolproof security solution

At the end of the day, school facilities experts said that even high-tech door locking systems won’t keep students and staff safe if they’re not implemented effectively. Sometimes students and staff will prop doors open for others, for example.

Bottom line: School safety and security needs to be put into a comprehensive plan, and not just thrown together as a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis. And there needs to be shared attitudes and behaviors within the school building to follow the safety plan.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Hoaxes Disrupt Schools Across the Country. What Educators Need to Know
School lockdowns can cause stress to students, teachers, and families, even if threats don't materialize.
8 min read
A bald man and a woman with long brown hair tearfully hug a teen girl who is wearing a pale beighe backpack. Three women look on with concerned expressions.
A family shares a tearful reunion after Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas, went into lockdown because of a false report of a shooting.
Kin Man Hui/The San Antonio Express-News via AP
School Climate & Safety How to Spend $1 Billion in School Safety Funds: Here's What the Feds Recommend
A "Dear Colleague" letter from the Education Department puts a priority on creating inclusive, equitable school environments.
4 min read
The U.S. Department of Education urged schools to use federal funds to support the social, emotional, mental, and physical health needs of students in a "dear colleague" letter sent Sept. 15.
Third grader Alexis Kelliher points to her feelings while visiting a sensory room at Williams Elementary School in Topeka, Kan.
Charlie Riedel/AP
School Climate & Safety A Pair of Retired Military Officers Makes a Case Against Arming Teachers
Their comments come on a call organized by a national teachers' union pushing back against the school safety strategy.
3 min read
A man in a black polo shirt with short sleeves holds up a hand gun in front of a projector screen that shows a diagram of a gun with labeled parts.
Clark Aposhian, president of Utah Shooting Sport Council, holds a pistol during concealed weapons training for 200 Utah teachers, in West Valley City, Utah.
Rick Bowmer/AP