Publication

April 9, 2019Client Alert

Classroom Safety Barricades: Safety Measure or a Dangerous Violation of the Law?

Recent good-faith attempts by many educational institutions to improve safety measures for students, teachers, and administrators instead put many of these educational institutions in the position of potentially violating federal, state, and/or local law.

Reacting to the recent surge of public mass shootings, many educational institutions have installed barricade locks or similar devices, which are intended to physically prevent intruders from entering into a building or classroom. Unbeknownst to many educational facilities, however, these types of devices can be a violation of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), International Building Code (IBC), the International Fire Code (IFC), state, and/or local law.

Under the ADA, IBC, and IFC, operations of door locks in educational buildings must provide “egress” for its occupants. Egress means door locks in such buildings must meet the following the requirements:

  • Doors must be continuously maintained free of all obstructions or impediments for full instant use;
  • Doors must be operable with no tight grasping, pinching, or twist of the effort, and without a key, tool, a special knowledge, or effort; and,
  • Doors must not require more than one operation to release a door latch.

The stated purpose of this requirement is to ensure occupants (including persons with disabilities under the ADA) are able to quickly evacuate a location in a tornado, fire, violent threats, or other emergency situations. However, some have felt this requirement does not take into full account those emergency situations where an occupant may want to prevent ingress into a building or classroom. To address this concern, a handful of states - such as Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, Utah, and Ohio - updated their fire and building codes to allow the legal installation of the safety barricade locks. Some states (such as California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, and New York) have looked at the balance of interests differently and have explicitly banned barricade devices in educational facilities.

In what appears to be a direct response to the wave of recent laws, the 2018 edition of both the IBC and the IFC regulations promulgated Section 1010.1.4.4 Locking arrangements in educational occupancies, which requires any school facility’s safety barricade device to satisfy the conditions of egress outlined above. As a result, any state that decides to adopt the updated 2018 IBC and/or IFC regulations would be effectively banning certain types of barricade locks from educational buildings.

A majority of state legislatures have not yet taken a position on whether or not to adopt the 2018 edition of the IBC and the IFC – Wisconsin being one of them. However, based on a recent Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Service response, the State of Wisconsin is taking the position that safety barricade devices are not code-compliant.

With inconsistent positions being taken by key legal stakeholders, and no adoption of the 2018 edition of the IBC and IFC by a majority of the states, it remains to be seen how each state will settle on this open area of law. Even if a state has authorized safety barricade devices, an educational institution is still exposed to risks of discrimination under the ADA. Educational institutions should be proactive to ensure any safety barricade device meets the requirements of the ADA, IBC, and IFC, as well as state and local codes.

To learn more and obtain advice about building compliance with federal, state, and local laws, contact Michelle Wagner Ebben or Syed Madani.

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