Ordinarily, a door is just a door. But in public schools across the country today, it is also a symbol of a troubling dilemma ("To lock classroom doors or not?" Los Angeles Times, Jan. 14). Should classroom doors be locked when students are present to shield them from outside danger, or should they be unlocked to protect students from inside danger?
I have reference now to the Sandy Hook Elementary School carnage in Newtown (the former) and to the Miramonte Elementary School child abuse in Los Angeles (the latter). The debate comes down to which poses the greater threat to students. Given the reality of public school campuses, I think it's better to keep doors locked. Principals have master keys, which mean they can enter any classroom without notice to deter sexual abuse. This doesn't guarantee that students will be safe from outside predators, of course, but it does buy a little more time for armed campus police to rush to the scene in the event of a shooter.
On a larger note, the fact that locked or unlocked doors are even an issue is extremely troubling. Schools should be sanctuaries, where teachers can teach and students are safe. When I was a student in K-12, classroom doors were left unlocked except at the end of the school day when both teachers and students had departed. No one gave a second thought to the matter.
It was only when I began teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District did I become aware. I guess I was lucky because my classroom was a bungalow on the periphery of the sprawling campus. The location alone would have been an easy target for armed intruders. Making matters worse, the school had no telephones in bungalows, and cellphones were not yet in widespread existence. The best protection offered was a combination of armed plainclothes security and administrators who patrolled the campus.
It's impossible to predict if the recent tragedies and scandals will be repeated elsewhere. The best preparation can go only so far. That's why I intend to devote an upcoming column to the contentious question of whether teachers should be armed.