How Utah schools updated security in the wake of Uvalde
Aug 12, 2022, 11:30 AM | Updated: Aug 17, 2022, 10:43 am
WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah — As Heidi Murray stacked books and prepared her classroom for 4th graders earlier this month, how to keep students safe from the unthinkable was never far from her mind.
“With things the way they are in the world, that’s one of the common questions that I get,” she said.
The shootings in Uvalde, Texas at the end of last school year raised many questions, including: How did a gunman walk freely into an elementary, despite billions of dollars spent on school security in the United States? The report from the Texas Legislature about what happened at Robb Elementary pointed to failures on every front, from the police response, the community’s missed red flags on the shooter, and the school’s complacency on facilities and security policies.
KSL surveyed Utah’s largest districts across the state to see how our schools uphold safety standards.
Every district we contacted told us they constantly review security procedures and facilities.
“As security threats have evolved, security measures have evolved,” Granite District Chief of Staff Ben Horsley said.
Many of the districts, including Washington County and the Canyons, said they performed security audits after Uvalde.
“We are meticulous of routinely auditing our schools and making sure when we do find a failure that it is corrected immediately,” said Michael Lee, risk manager for Washington County School District.
That wasn’t the case at Robb Elementary in Texas.
The gunman was likely able to enter a classroom of children because the lock on classroom 111 was broken. No one had submitted a work order to fix it.
The report also revealed classroom door locks at Robb are on the outside, meaning teachers had to risk entering the hallway during an emergency to lock their rooms.
And schools here in Utah have similar door locks.
For example, Salt Lake School District told us 15% of their doors lock from the hall. Granite, Canyons, Weber and Washington also have dozens of older schools with those doors. But districts say they’ve issued new protocol to protect teachers.
“Now our mantra is to lock the doors at all times and keep them shut to the degree possible, because you never know when a potential threat might come into a building,” Horsley said.
Every Granite District employee is expected to carry their ID badge and room key at all times.
Murray, who teaches in the Washington County School District, has a workaround many other teachers use: a magnet strip that prevents a locked door from latching. In an emergency, a teacher would pull out the magnet, and the door would lock shut.
In Granite District, administrators acknowledged teachers also lock the door and prop them open, but protocol is to lock and keep them shut.
Provo, Alpine and Nebo Districts told us they have replaced all of their hallway door locks.
The Texas report also concluded that Robb Elementary had a “culture of non-compliance that turned out to be fatal.” In addition to the broken classroom door lock, the building itself was often not secured. Exterior doors should have been locked.
The report didn’t state how the gunman entered the school, but noted teachers often used “rocks to prop open exterior doors,” partly because of a shortage of keys.
School districts like Canyons are taking measures to better secure their buildings.
“We are being more diligent in checking the perimeter of our buildings on a regular basis. It is very easy to prop doors open. They can see that those little conveniences that we take for granted, by putting a garbage can in the door, actually can have disastrous results,” said Ryan Jakeman, assistant director of facilities for Canyons School District.
In Uvalde, the problem wasn’t just door locks, but keys. The report concluded law enforcement took 73 minutes before entering class 111, in part because they were waiting for a master key, even though the lock was broken, and door likely unlocked.
Granite and Davis Districts say all their police agencies have master keys
“There should never be a situation where we can’t get into a door because it’s locked,” said Horsley.
In Washington County schools, they’re installing building lockboxes with master keys.
Utah districts are spending millions of dollars for secure lobbies, which creates one entrance for visitors that requires them to get beeped into the front office. Once the visitor checks in, they are beeped into the school building.
Granite says each of their 60 elementary schools will have secure lobbies this year. Davis, Washington, Salt Lake, Alpine and Weber tell us the same.
Now districts are working to install similar systems in middle and junior high schools.
Districts won’t talk about all their security systems, but they do say they’ve invested in things like real-time surveillance systems, high schools with more than 100 surveillance cameras and reinforced glass.
Many districts have hired more school resource officers. Steve Dunham, director of communications for Washington County Schools, says their goal is a police emergency response time of 2-3 minutes.
“Or even less, in some cases they’re across the street,” he said.
The goal is to keep police close and a would-be intruder outside. The report shows why that saves lives. With nothing to obstruct the gunman, he was able to fire 100 shots within the first 2 ½ minutes.
District leaders ask everyone to take security seriously, even though it isn’t convenient.
And for teachers like Murray, that means balancing a class that protects students while inviting them to learn.
“You want to make sure your classroom and school environment is a place where kids look forward to coming,” she said.