Doors – both the one the Uvalde gunman entered and the one police did not open for over an hour – have been at the center of the investigation into the killing of 19 students and two teachers and the police response to the massacre, the Associated Press reports. School officials under pressure to balance accessibility and safety confront a variety of decisions about the seemingly mundane act of going in and out of a building or classroom. As the attack on Robb Elementary School showed, such choices can spell the difference between life and death. State police initially said the gunman entered through an exterior door that had been propped open by a teacher. Later, the Texas Department of Public Safety said that the teacher closed the door after realizing a shooter was on campus, but it did not lock as it should have. Inside, officers waited for more than an hour to breach the classroom, and state authorities have blamed the head of the school district’s police department for wrongly believing children were no longer at risk. A U.S. Border Patrol tactical team used a janitor’s key to unlock the classroom door and kill the gunman.
State and federal panels charged with reviewing mass shootings have advised limiting access to school buildings by locking exterior doors, forcing visitors to enter through a secure door and requiring teachers to lock classrooms while classes are in session. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says schools may be able to delay an intruder by keeping exterior doors locked when they are not being monitored by staff. Schools will still need to ensure that employees “adhere to policies mandating that all exterior doors remain closed outside of student arrival and dismissal times.” In guidance updated in February, the agency wrote that districts should consider whether measures such as automatic locks on classroom doors could hinder emergency responders. There are no federal standards or requirements on these points, leaving the decision up to state or local authorities. Those officials must also balance how to keep people safe in case of a fire or natural disaster and the expense of renovating and maintaining schools.