Ellis and others also pointed out that security measures often reflect what people are “willing to give up in terms of convenience, access, the whole environment of the school, and what are they willing to pay to fund it.”
School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said any security changes in Fairfax should be thoughtful and made with a focus on preserving a welcoming learning environment. “I would rather have all of our doors locked and secured than have armed officers in our schools,” she said. “To me, that’s a healthy trade-off.”
The project to install buzzer entrance systems in Montgomery’s 139 elementary schools was in the works before Sandy Hook. But a final group of 26 schools was not due for the improvements until next school year.
Parents wrote letters.
“I’ve never seen anything go through local government so quickly,” said Arielle Grill, a Bethesda parent who urged the project be accelerated. Grill said she does not want schools to become fortresses but thinks that “locking the front door of an elementary school is just so fundamental to keeping kids safe.”
The project is to be completed by June.
A national nonprofit safety group, Safe Havens International, which has developed safety plans for thousands of schools, said that in recent years, it has defeated security systems in more than 90 percent of the 200 schools it has been asked to test with in-person visits.
In but one example, Michael Dorn, the group’s executive director, said he has made his way into schools a number of times after introducing himself as Ted Bundy — the name of an infamous serial killer — and explaining the purpose of his visit as “an ax to grind with the principal.”
Dorn says the problem is often lack of training or the culture of a school.
“Sometimes the culture is, ‘We don’t want to offend anybody,’ ” he said. “They have not been taught to politely screen people in an effective manner. They just hit the buzzer.”
The message of Sandy Hook, Dorn said, is not to rush to spend lavishly on security extras but to take a look at potential gaps.
“It should not be a knee-jerk, big purchase but a thoughtful assessment of what school systems need and can afford,” he said.
For Sharon Burns, a first-grade teacher in Reston, Sandy Hook brought classroom doors into more urgent focus. Her elementary school, built in the “open classroom” era, was designed without individual room doors.
Burns had long wanted doors, she said, and the week after the Connecticut tragedy she collected 300 signatures on a petition. “I started thinking, what would I do with my 20 kids? Having that door could make all the difference,” she said.
Just after winter break, she learned the project had been approved. Officials say the last seven schools with an open design are getting doors, a $467,000 project. “I was so excited,” she said.
In D.C. schools, security is heavy, with guards at entrances, a buzzer system at most schools, and scanners for visitors at entrances to most middle and high schools. School leaders are working with the D.C. police to determine what else might be needed, officials said.
In Loudoun, all schools have buzzer entrance systems. Officials said the school system is reviewing all security practices, with plans to increase safeguards.
In Prince William, some schools have buzz-in systems, and processes are in place to monitor access, officials said. “We are, like everyone else, taking a hard look at our security arrangements, ” spokesman Phil Kavits said, “and seeing where they can be enhanced.”