Facility Security

School Security Starts at the Reception Desk

The number of high profile school shootings in 2018 and 2019, and the shooting death of a San Bernardino, California teacher by her estranged husband in her classroom in April 2017 point to the need for more careful visitor screening at all K–12 public and private schools. While many schools have a “closed campus” policy for their students, it’s easy for most people to gain access to the school buildings without being detected.

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In the San Bernardino case, the shooter signed in at the school’s front desk and was told he could go back to see his wife in her classroom. Besides killing her, he killed an 8-year-old boy and wounded another child before killing himself. This tragic incident has served as a wakeup call for some schools to no longer allow spouses, family members, or anyone they’ve not vetted or previously discussed with the teachers to just go straight back to the classroom.

A better approach is to bring teachers and staff to the front desk and not to allow visitors back to classrooms unsupervised. This process may not have completely prevented the San Bernardino tragedy, but it creates more structure and puts fewer children at risk. The school can ask the security staff to stand by near the visitor counter, or, in those cases where a police officer is serving as the school resource officer (SRO), he or she can monitor the interaction.

But before this protocol even starts, school employees must be honest with their supervisors, including speaking to their principals, about any issues that are related to their safety, including domestic violence threats, marital problems, or the presence of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against someone who could come to the school and violate the order. We have the right to get involved in an employee’s personal life only when it affects his or her work or the safety of him- or herself or others. Since the volatility of domestic violence relationships puts other staff and students at risk, school leaders and employees need to have immediate, confidential conversations about the possibility of the restrained person wanting to come on campus and if he or she is already known or not.

It can help to set up a code word system over the phone so that when teachers call to the front desk or when the front desk staff calls back to the classroom, they can use coded language to warn each other of the subject’s presence, to not let him or her go beyond the desk, and to go to a safe place to call the on-campus or local police. Even if the school’s SRO is not stationed at the campus full time, he or she must have current knowledge about any domestic violence or TRO-related situations at every campus so as to have a tactical action plan should the subject show up.

Schools’ visitor monitoring should be just that, monitoring, and not just unescorted access or simply signing in and out and getting a visitor’s badge.