The matter of classroom doors at nine schools that could not be locked even in the event of a campus intruder has been resolved — at least 18 years after teachers first complained and at a fraction of the cost.
What Palm Beach County School District administrators once declared too expensive at $40,000 per door, rung in at under $4,000 each, the district reported this week.
The fix, much of which was executed over spring break, came five weeks after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and a month after a story in The Palm Beach Post reported the long-standing security flaw.
“Just delving deeper, we looked at the situation in a different way,” Chief Operating Officer Wanda Paul said.
Paul declined to go into specifics for security reasons, but she said the solution involved additional doors in the affected rooms and “a tremendous amount” of new hardware.
“It is a great fix, better than we had anticipated,” said Joan Beebe, a math teacher at Lake Worth Middle who was among those to raise red flags regarding the doors on her campus and others.
Built in 1990, Lake Worth Middle had eight classrooms with doors into the hallway that could not be locked from within. In the event of a lockdown, teachers were directed to escort their students out of the room, into the hallway and then into a neighboring room that could be secured.
The doors weren’t broken, they were designed that way as a safety measure in case of fire.
District leaders said this week that nine schools, all built in the late 1980s and 1990s, share this design. Until last week’s fix, that put students in 21 classrooms without locking doors, they reported.
In case of fire, anyone who couldn’t make it to an exit at the end of the hall could take a shortcut through one of the strategically placed classrooms, entering through a door that never locked and exiting a second door to the outside.
The flaw in this system became apparent to Beebe and her colleagues in 2000, when, on the last day of school, an armed student walked onto campus, knocked on teacher Barry Grunow’s door and fatally shot the teacher as he stood in the doorway.
A lock wouldn’t have changed Grunow’s fate — his door wasn’t among those in question. But every teacher whose door didn’t lock was left considering what would have happened if the shooter had headed their way.
“I was in one of those classrooms for two years. I have colleagues in those classrooms. The students are aware the door doesn’t lock,” Beebe said shortly after the Parkland shootings. “I know my principals present and past have done what they need to do to bring it to the district’s attention, but it’s falling on deaf ears.”
The two roadblocks: fire code and cost.
“If we lock all the doors we’d be in violation of the fire code,” Paul said. As for the cost, Paul said estimates she had been given were about $40,000 per room. The solution she and her staff came to, however, cost significantly less.
The price for 21 rooms in nine schools was closer to $75,000, said Amity Schuyler, the superintendent’s chief of staff.
Said Beebe, the math teacher: “We are ecstatic that the district has listened and is moving so quickly on this safety issue.”