Small Town at War Over Active-Shooter Barricades

BOSTON (CN) – Some say arm the teachers. Others want a gun-free zone. As America grapples with the rise in mass school shootings, one small town school board opted this year to invest in free-standing door barricades.

But this decision too would not be without controversy.

In a 10-page lawsuit against the town, the Lenox Public School District says the “proactive and commendable” steps it took in the name of safety resulted this fall in a cease-and-desist order. 

Lenox (pop. 5,025) is just east of the Massachusetts-New York line. School officials there have learned for years at state-mandated training sessions that barricading the classrooms with chairs and desks is the best practice, in the event of a lockdown, to keep unwanted intruders out.

The system isn’t perfect — barricades can also delay first responders — but Lenox Schools say their town fire department wholly supports it.

In any case, as compared with furniture that would otherwise be used, Lenox School also notes that free-standing barricades are easier to remove.

Lenox Schools bought its barricades at Home Depot. It says they are intended only for use in an active-shooter lockdown, and are otherwise kept accessible to staff in school classrooms or other rooms.

Represented by attorneys at the Quincy firm Murphy Hesse, the school district asked the Suffolk Superior Court on March 27 to annul the building-inspection violation notice that it was served in October.

The complaint takes issue in part with the conclusion by the inspector that the safety exemption to the building code is not applicable to educational institutions.

“This myopic conclusion, and the necessary corollary proposition that a school building is per se unprotected by the State Building Code’s exceptions for security and life safety events, are legally incorrect and, as practical and policy matter, utterly absurd,” the complaint states. 

A white paper from The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools acknowledges the appeal of removable door barricades, but recommends the use of locks to make it easier for first responders to enter, and to add security without butting heads with the local building code.

“The requirements for free egress, fire protection, and accessibility must be considered in conjunction with the need for security,” the white paper states. “Unauthorized lockdown and emergency responder access are important considerations, although not currently addressed by the model codes.”

The Lenox district says it learned about barricades while attending ALICE training, short for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. In a 2015 memo, the ALICE Training Institute clarified that barricades are preferable to locking devices, and that only objects that have functions other than blocking a door may be considered a barricade.

The ALICE System considers the “barricades” purchased by the Lenox district as locking devices, which are less preferable, specifically because they must be purchased and can become subject local building code ordinances.

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