Some Palm Beach County classroom doors don’t lock, used as fire exits, school district says
WPTV | By Stephanie Susskind | June 28, 2022
PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Locking classroom doors is common practice in Palm Beach County public schools, but WPTV has uncovered there are a handful of classroom doors that don’t lock.
Now the school district is taking action to address the safety issue.
A very small percentage of the more than 15,000 classrooms throughout the School District of Palm Beach County are used as potential fire exits and therefore do not lock.
For security reasons, WPTV is not going into the number or location of those classrooms.
But one teacher who was in one of them has been on a crusade for change. And now, it’s coming.
“Would you choose to have your child in an unlocked room? If you had a choice to have them in a locked room, you know you’re going to choose a locked room,” said longtime Palm Beach County teacher Kelly Melvin.
Melvin said she didn’t think much of the missing lock on her classroom door until recently.
“I thought about what happened in Texas and that classroom was unlocked,” Melvin said. “I found out by research and talking to the Florida Department of Education that it wasn’t just my room.”
“There are a couple of schools we have that are called POD schools that have a central corridor in one building, and then one of the classrooms is used as an emergency egress. Because you have to have two egresses out of that central corridor,” said Joseph Sanches, the chief operating officer for the School District of Palm Beach County.
Sanches said a small number of classroom doors fit that scenario and don’t lock because the rooms are used as fire exits.
“That one classroom that’s used as an egress can’t remain locked all the time,” Sanches said.
“Is this an issue you knew about previously?” WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind asked Sanches.
“It’s an issue the district has been aware of and we’ve taken measures last year and before to address those issues,” Sanches answered. “We’re complying with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act to make sure that the code red situations, there is a place for those students to be housed safely if there was an emergency in those locations.”
But as Melvin raised awareness, even starting an online petition to get every classroom door locked, change is coming.
“One of the things that we’re looking at is putting electronic strikes on those doors to keep them locked,” Sanches said. “So when a fire alarm goes off or a smoke detector goes off, that door will open and someone can get out of the corridor safely. So that would keep the doors locked full-time.”
Another option is keeping those classrooms empty. Sanches said it’s a balancing act.
“The fire safety is a more common issue that we have to address, where the active shooter is less common, but obviously gets more attention,” Sanches said. “So we have to make sure we don’t solve one problem and create three other problems.”
“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” Melvin said.
Melvin is just glad to see changes on the way.
“I do feel confident that things will be a lot more secure in August. So I think that’s amazing,” Melvin said.
“We have security projects going on all the time and there’s always improvements that we are looking at to make our schools as safe as possible,” Sanches said.
WPTV also spoke to Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri who said he was not aware of the door locking issue until now and is pushing for the school board to create a policy requiring teachers to keep their classroom doors locked at all times.
Barbieri expects the board will discuss the matter very soon.