HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Some schools across Hampton Roads lack a basic safety feature — and it might be one that parents have never thought about: Classroom doors that lock from the inside.
“Students who are in a classroom behind a locked classroom door, are typically very safe,” said Curtis Lavarello, the executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council.
But where the locking mechanism is on a classroom door knob can make a big difference when it comes to life or death during a school shooting.
“We certainly think [the lock] should be on the inside, so a teacher never has to…reach outside in a high risk situation,” Lavarello said.
A teacher from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde told NBC News that when a gunman walked into her school last May, she was only able to lock her classroom door by stepping into the hallway and locking it from the outside. While doing so, she found herself in the hallway with the shooter.
According to United Educators, teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were killed while trying to lock their classroom doors from the outside.
56% of schools across Virginia report that all their classrooms lock from the inside, according to the 2021 Virginia School Safety Survey.
The classroom doors which lock from the inside are “the most effective in securing a classroom,” the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission says. Their report also notes that “there has never been an event in which an active shooter breached a lock classroom door.”
10 On Your Side asked schools across Hampton Roads how many of their classroom doors lock from the inside. Chesapeake Public Schools, Suffolk Public Schools and Norfolk Public Schools all told us they couldn’t provide us with that information due to security concerns.
However, representatives from Hampton and Newport News Schools tell 10 On Your Side that all of their classroom doors can be locked from the inside. In Portsmouth, the majority of their doors cannot be locked from the inside.
In Virginia Beach, slightly more than half of their classroom doors lock from the inside — but the school has a protocol that requires all classroom doors to remain in a locked position at all times.
“The most important part is that we lock our doors and they have the ability to close them if they’re open and close them quickly, especially in a crisis or a lockdown situation,” Tommy DeMartini, the Director of the Office of Security for Virginia Beach Public Schools.
“It’s an expectation of ours that all our teachers are locking their doors throughout the entire day,” he said.
“They keep [the door] in a lock position and then all they have to do in an emergency is close the door, and it’s locked,” DeMartini said.
Differences in design and budget constraints can make it difficult to uniformly update all schools to a specific standard. DeMartini says his teams perform random audits throughout the day at each of their schools to make sure classroom doors are locked.
“Security is a team effort and we continue to educate teachers and principals and our staff on how to maintain a secure environment,” DeMartini said.
When it comes to policies and procedures to keep kids safe, Lavarello says his biggest piece of advice is for parents and teachers to engage their students and try to recognize any concerns.
“As we sit here and talk about locks and safety techniques, I know right now there’s some kid sitting at home planning something bigger than the last school shooting, and that’s what we have to keep in mind,” Lavarello said.