What do we do about students who are in the restroom when we announce a lockdown?
This question is raised often during our school security assessment consulting and training presentations around the country. The issue has several variables schools must prepare for as they develop and refine their emergency guidelines.
Don’t leave students stranded in restrooms
Too often we see emergency plans or guidelines which dismiss this depth of the issue with a simple statement such as, “All students will report to the nearest classroom.” While at face value this is generally true, children and staff must be trained to the specific protocol established by school administrators and crisis team. We do NOT believe students should be left to make this decision on their own, regardless of their age.
We also do NOT believe students should “lockdown” in a restroom or trained to stand on toilets as a routine response simply so adults do not have to make an attempt to get them out of the restroom even when they can safely do so. This is something we have seen in a number of plans around the country. If this is in your plans, now is a good time to revisit this component of school emergency planning.
One of our basic beliefs we impart to our clients is simple: All adults in the school environment are responsible for the safety of all children. Therefore, all staff (including support personnel) must be trained to the expectations of them in many areas of school safety, including with lockdowns.
Improved lockdowns and restroom student safety involves better planning
Some points to discuss as a school crisis team may include:
- Inspect all restrooms to see if PA announcements can be heard. All restrooms should be equipped with PA speakers. Too often we find that PA announcements cannot be heard when students and/or staff are inside restrooms.
- Identify safe sheltering locations near restrooms and train staff to move students to them in a lockdown. If a lockdown is announced at an elementary building while a classroom or group of students is using the restroom, for example, the staff member supervising the students must clear the restrooms of all students and move to the nearest safe sheltering location. If that is a classroom, then the teacher nearest the restroom should anticipate the arrival of students who might be in the restroom along with the adult supervising the students.
- Develop guidelines that include attention to, and protocols to support, special needs children who may be in restrooms, going to and from restrooms, and in classes during lockdowns. Additional staff support may be needed for these students.
- Train and assign staff to check restrooms. At all schools, staff should be trained to check restrooms for children when a lockdown is announced. This means an adult, often a nearby classroom teacher, will be assigned to check a particular restroom(s). This assignment should be established with by-name accountability, i.e., by staff member name. This does mean that short of an obvious imminent threat to the adult, an adult will have to leave their classroom or other work area to check for children. Custodial, other support staff, administrators, and unassigned teachers should be engaged to help secure areas when possible during lockdowns, too. This point also applies to site evacuations as well, such as for a fire drill.
- Train, drill and debrief. Administrators and crisis team members learn through drilling, debriefing, and training. When doing drills, take time to assess issues that arise around restrooms during these lockdown drills. Debrief the drill with teachers, support staff, administrators and students. Adjust guidelines and follow-up training accordingly.
Reasonable judgment, sound decisions
These are general discussion points made with the understanding that events require some common sense judgment when danger is nearby. What is “reasonable” in specific incidents will ultimately be determined based upon the unique facts at hand, training, drilling, and debriefing lessons learned.
Time and time again, school staff members have chosen to place themselves in harm’s way to protect students. With the proper procedures and training, we can minimize the risk for all.
School Security Consultant
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