WASHINGTON — Every few years, the United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, under the Department of Homeland Security, releases its “K-12 School Security Guide”.
The guide includes numerous recommendations for school systems to implement to keep their students and staff safe on their campuses.
Among other things, the agency recommends schools use interior door locks in their classrooms to prevent intruders from entering classrooms.
Well, in D.C., not all classrooms have that basic security measure.
For years, members of the DC Council have pushed District leaders to make sure all classrooms have the locks they need to keep students safe.
In March 2018, just a month after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, Ward 6 Councilmember discussed the need for locks at a Northeast D.C. school before a budget oversight hearing of the DC Council’s Committee of Education.
“It should not take that long to get locks that work on a school door and especially with the national conversation we’re having,” he said.
While four years later, in March 2022, Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, echoed a similar concern during a committee performance oversight hearing of the District’s Department of General Services [DGS].
“We have a number of Ward 4 schools that have doors that don’t lock and it’s a major safety issue,” she said.
On Wednesday, Allen received a tweet from a DC Public Schools teacher in Northeast D.C. who claimed there are multiple classroom doors in her building that do not lock as well.
DGS, which installs locks in DCPS facilities, has since been to that teacher’s school to assess the lock repairs that are needed there.
“I think it's always troubling when we can't get the work orders resolved,” Allen said. “And, I think that when I have a teacher who reaches out first thing in the morning because they need help, it's troubling. We've got to make sure these things get done.”
In a joint statement to WUSA9 regarding broken locks at some DCPS schools, DCPS and DGS said the safety and wellbeing of students and staff is their highest priority.
“We continue to work closely with the DC Metropolitan Police Department and other city agencies on the security of our school communities to create a safe and welcoming environment for all,” the statement reads. “This includes a layered safety and security approach with our school security guards and highly trained, youth specific, MPD School Resource Officers. Physical security structures of a school building are regularly reviewed as part of our security assessments."
The speed of school repairs in the District has been a topic of discussion at the Wilson Building in the past.
Prior to a meeting on the subject in September 2021, Allen requested data on every open work order DGS had for Ward 6 DCPS schools that were more than 30 days old.
The councilmember ultimately learned there were 472 work orders that were more than a month old. WUSA9 reviewed that list and discovered 35 of those requests were related to door and lock issues at 13 schools in Allen’s ward.
One work order mentioned safety concerns regarding a broken lock on the first floor of a Southeast D.C. elementary school.
“Hallway door does not lock at all in case of lock down emergency the door will not keep first floor classroom out of harms way ticket needs to be escalated ASAP URGENT!!!!! Safety Issue!!!!!!” the order reads.
It is unclear how many classroom door locks are currently broken in DCPS schools.
However, in 2018, the public learned just how costly it can be to install and repair locks in schools.
“We have done the research with DGS and identified we have over 50 schools that do not have the ability to lock our doors,” said Michael Gaal, DCPS’ former deputy chancellor of innovation and systems improvement during a DC Council hearing. “It's around $15 million for us to meet that requirement.”
However, Allen notes the issue of door locks in schools is just one part of the larger discussion on how to keep students and educators safe in D.C.
Following Tuesday’s mass shooting that claimed the lives of 21 students and teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Allen said more must be done to get dangerous firearms off the streets.
“In light of yesterday’s [shooting], I do think it's important to take a step back,” he said. “Making sure there's a deadbolt on a classroom door, it's a workaround to what the real solution is and that is that guns like this should never be on our streets, assault weapons, AR-15s.”
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