Texas shooting renews debate about American school design – Are there too many windows, too many entrances, too few security features?

Law enforcement officers respond to an active shooter in front of Santa Fe High School Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. (Steve Gonzale/Houston Chronicle via AP)

By LISA MARIE PANE,  Associated Press  05/19 Just hours after the nation’s latest school shooting, the debate began anew: Are American schools built in a way that makes them easy targets? Are there too many windows, too many entrances and exits and too few security features?

The questions expose yet another divide, with Second Amendment activists and some security experts calling for safer school designs and some gun-control advocates saying it’s a distracting side issue that avoids more meaningful action.

The debate began after the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado and gained more attention in the aftermath of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On Friday, in the hours after a student shot and killed 10 people at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, the state’s lieutenant governor suggested again that it was time to examine school layouts.

“There are too many entrances and too many exits to our over 8,000 campuses in Texas,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, explaining that those points can’t all be guarded.

Gun-rights activists, led by the National Rifle Association, have pushed for a “hardening” of schools, including training and arming educators and even keeping shrubbery and landscaping farther away from school buildings so there are fewer blocked viewpoints. Reducing the number of entrances is considered another way to prevent shooters from getting inside undetected.

Law enforcement officers respond to Santa Fe High School after an active shooter was reported on campus, Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. ( Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP)


According to a report last year in Education Week, a trade publication, the average age of an American school is 44 years with major renovations dating back more than a decade. Older buildings were designed without today’s worries of active shooters and terrorism.

They have lots of “nooks and crannies,” isolated areas that are difficult to supervise, as well as old hardware on classroom doors and main offices that aren’t located near the main entrance. Other problems include old public-address systems and no telephones in classrooms, said Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm.

When it comes to designing schools, educational considerations create some natural tension with security needs. Studying in places with lots of light, for example, is thought to improve learning. That was the philosophy behind one school constructed just last year with floor-to-ceiling windows, Trump said. But those same windows could make students and staff easy targets for a gunman.

He agrees that a large number of entrances can make a school vulnerable. More doors bring a greater risk that someone will prop one open or that mechanical issues will prevent a door from being closed or locked. It’s also harder to monitor who is coming and going.

And even if a front entrance is fortified with security systems, there are usually other ways in, such as the cafeteria where food deliveries are made or the gym.

Still, Trump said, no amount of architectural planning or design will replace mental health treatment, emergency drills and training and the ability to identify potential school shooters ahead of time.

It’s simplistic to think that layouts and building features alone will make schools safer, he said, and politically expedient to tout only architectural design and construction.

Focusing solely on exits and entrances can create a host of other issues, cautioned Gregory Shaffer, a security consultant and retired FBI agent.

Having metal detectors at the entrance creates long lines, which means schools have to start earlier and hire more staff to screen students. “And if you have long lines going into the school, that makes it a target as well. That is a shooter’s ideal location,” he said.

For gun-control advocates, it’s galling to focus on structural issues. They see frequent school shootings as evidence of the nation’s unwillingness to take other steps to stop gun violence.

“I often find that the discussion of how to do it is really a smoke screen,” said David Chipman, formerly of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and now a senior policy adviser with the gun safety organization founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded in a shooting in 2012. “How to do it isn’t really the issue. It’s do we want to do it and are we willing to pay the money.”

After the 9/11 terror attacks, the United States took steps to secure government and public buildings — from airports to concert halls. It’s routine now to go through a metal detector before entering. Yet those same steps aren’t common in public schools, making them, he said, more dangerous than prisons.

“There are some places that we’ve decided as a nation that we will not allow violence to ever occur,” Chipman said. “But school is not one of them yet.”



Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 × 4 =

Terms of Use for Posting Comments

Terms of Use

This site (the “Site”) is operated and maintained by Law Enforcement Education Foundation, Corporation (“Company”). Throughout the Site, the terms “we”, “us” and “our” refer to Company.  The words “user,” “you” and “your” as used herein refer to you.

Please read these terms and conditions of use (“Terms of Use”) carefully before contributing content. If you do not agree to these Terms of Use, please do not contribute content. Your use of the Site is subject to the Terms and Conditions found here .

By contributing content to the Site, you represent and warrant that you are at least eighteen (18) years old and that you have read and understand these Terms of Use and any amendments thereto and agree to be bound by them. If you are not at least eighteen (18) years old or you do not agree and accept these Terms of Use, you are prohibited from contributing content.

From time to time, we may permit users to submit content to the Site.  You hereby acknowledge and agree that by submitting remarks, comments, suggestions, ideas, graphics, feedback, edits, concepts, comments, photographs, illustrations and other materials (other than personal information and/or registration information) through the Site (individually and collectively, “Submissions”), you (i) grant us a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable and fully sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, create derivative works from and publicly display and perform such Submissions throughout the world in any media, now known or hereafter created, without attribution to you; (ii) grant us the right to pursue at law any person or entity that violates your and/or our rights in your Submissions; and (iii) forever waive any and all of your rights, including but not limited to moral rights, if any, in and to your Submissions, including, without limitation, any all rights or requirements of attribution or identification of you as the author of the Submission or any derivative thereof.  We reserve the right to remove any of your Submissions from the Site, in whole or in part, without notice to you, for any reason or no reason.

Submissions are made voluntarily. Any submissions which include personally identifiable information are subject to our Privacy Policy found here .  You may not upload or otherwise publish content on the Site that (i) is confidential to you or any third party; (ii) is untrue, inaccurate, false or other than an original work of your authorship; (iii) that relates to or impersonates any other person; (iv) violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property rights of any person or entity; (v) contains any content, personally identifiable information or other information, or materials of any kind that relate or refer to any other person or entity other than the provider of the products, goods or services to which the Submission relates; or (vi) violates any law, or in any manner infringes or interferes with the rights of others, including but not limited to the use of names, information, or materials that (A) libel, defame, or invade the privacy of any third party, (B) are obscene or pornographic, (C) are harmful, threatening, offensive, abusive, harassing, vulgar, false or inaccurate, racially, sexually, ethnically or are otherwise objectionable or otherwise contrary to the laws of any place where such Submissions may be accessed; (D) constitute personal attacks on other individuals; (E) promote criminal, immoral or illegal activity; (F) promote or advertise any person, product or service or solicit funds; or (G) are deemed confidential by any contract or policy.

You are solely responsible for any Submissions you make and their accuracy. We take no responsibility and assume no liability for any Submissions posted by you or any third party.

Unless approved by us in writing in advance, you agree not to: (i) provide or create a link to the Site; or (ii) create any frames at any other sites pertaining to any of the content located on the Site.

We reserve the right, in our discretion, to update, change or replace any part of these Terms of Use for Posting Comments by posting updates and/or changes to our Site.  It is your responsibility to check this page periodically for changes.  Your continued use of, and/or access to the Site, following the posting of any changes to these Terms of Use for Posting Comments, constitutes your acceptance of those changes.