TEXAS— As students at Santa Fe High School and across the country return to classes this week, parents are addressing the new safety regulations that have been put in place since the shooting.
The new policies will follow a theory known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, that illuminates the delicate balance between security and education.
After the shooting at Santa Fe High School in May, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blamed the shooting on “too many entrances and too many exits” at the school.
The comment was mocked by some as “door control,” but he was making a real point. Many new schools are now built with a single, primary entrance that all students, teachers and visitors must come through.
“In design, what we want to make sure is that we can visually observe anybody that approaches the building and then pass them through a filtering process,” Payne explained.
The idea is to have a better way to control who visits the schools and, in the case of an emergency, to create an additional barrier to anyone seeking to do harm.
[VIDEO: Santa Fe ISD Superintendent, Dr. Leigh Wall welcomes students back to school]
A single entrance point
Architects are designing schools where visitors encounter a single entrance point in a vestibule or antechamber. The visitors then must talk to an administrator or secretary to present their ID and reason for being there, and only then are they allowed to pass through another set of doors to get into the school.
For example, the firm Fanning Howey built the West Muskingum Learning Center in Zanesville, Ohio with a vestibule that leads visitors to a front office.
Ken Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, said the vestibules help with what’s called “visitor management.”
“You reconfigure the front entrance way of the school, so instead of being able to just walk right in to the school, you get funneled to the office to get checked in,” he said.
These vestibule doors are generally left open during the morning and afternoon rush and then closed once classes begin. There are also many one-way exits around the school that can be opened in case of a fire or other emergency.
“One way in, multiple ways out,” Payne said.
Perimeter landscaping that makes visitors visible
One main idea of designing safety is to create several layers of security, or concentric rings of access, starting with the perimeter and then working inward into the school. If there is an intruder, each layer of security is designed to delay him or her until first responders can arrive.
The outermost layer of security is the landscape leading up to the entrance. Designers said they try to create a perimeter where everyone has to walk up on foot, so that people inside the school can easily see who is coming.
“Folks have to come up on a pedestrian level,” said Art Bond, principal of Bond Architects.
In practice, that means the area around the entrance might have a pathway through a low shrubbery or a garden, so that there are no places to hide. Some schools might have a pedestrian bridge out front to funnel visitors to that main entrance.
In addition, visitor parking lots and bus dropoffs are located in separate areas further from the school entrance, so visitors have to walk to the entrance. Bollards or strategically placed planters near the entrance can also be used to prevent someone driving into the building.
“We want to make sure that we have lots of windows so that administrators, people that are in charge, can see folks approaching the building,” said Bill Payne, CEO of architecture and design firm Fanning Howey.
Wider, open hallways
New schools also are being designed with wide, open hallways that provide clear lines of sight.
This gives teachers, administrators and school resource officers the ability to stand at one spot and see what’s going on all around. Having open hallways without nooks and crannies also gives surveillance cameras a fuller view of the school.
In modern schools, these hallways function as throughways as well as collaborative working spaces similar to a Starbucks, Nigaglioni said.
These open hallways also can be sealed off electronically in the case of an emergency, adding one more layer of security. In a lockdown, students would go to their classrooms and lock that door, too, creating yet another barrier.
The overall idea is to create a collaborative learning environment that can function as another zone of security to allow time for police to arrive.
“That hardened approach, where everybody’s in enclosed little silos, is not what we’re attempting to do,” Payne said. “We’re more interested in keeping the perpetrator or attacker at bay so the first responders can arrive in time.”
Pruchnicki, of Bond Architects, said that classrooms are now labeled with large numbers that jut out from the wall. That makes it easier for first responders — not to mention new students or substitute teachers — to quickly locate a specific room on the school’s campus.
Of course, school security is much more than just the threat of active shootings. Schools also have to deal with bullying, sexual assaults, weather emergencies and estranged parents — say, in a custody battle — who may want to pull their kids out of school. The newest school designs have multiple focuses to address all of these issues.
“On a day-to-day basis, you want to design schools and focus on things that will help with monitoring, with supervision and communication, dealing with bullying prevention and those types of issues,” Trump said. “They go beyond just the tunnel vision focus on a shooter.”