Among the torrent of legislation California lawmakers approved this week are bills mandating school safety plans and classroom door locks and a bill allowing school personnel to file a gun violence restraining order. They are now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature — or veto.
None are high-profile items like the bills calling for armed officers in every school and a vast increase in the number of mental health practitioners in schools, which were proposed after the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The armed officer bill died in the Assembly and the Legislature passed a drastically scaled-back version of the mental health bill.
But the authors of these more modest measures approved by the Legislature say they are important steps toward keeping the millions of California students — from kindergarten through college — safe at school. EdSource asked Michael Dorn, a Georgia-based school safety expert who has worked on more than 6,000 school security assessments in 40 states, for his comments on each bill.
Following is a summary of each school safety bill awaiting Gov. Brown’s approval.
Classroom door locks
AB 3205, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, requires that any school modernization project done with money from the state’s school facility bond program include locks that allow doors to classrooms and any room with an occupancy of five or more people to be locked from the inside.
The bill, which O’Donnell is confident will get Brown’s signature, builds on legislation requiring such locks in classrooms of all schools built after Jan. 1, 2012. This bill will expand that requirement to existing classrooms that are renovated using state bond funds after Jan. 1, 2019. The estimated annual cost could be as high as $750,000, depending on the number of classrooms retrofitted each year.
Having the ability to lock a door from the inside is considered crucial during times when an active shooter or other dangerous elements are outside a classroom, safety experts say. O’Donnell, who was a teacher for 20 years, remembers harrowing moments when he had to step outside the classroom to lock the door during lockdowns.
“This is an incremental step to making California schools safer,” O’Donnell said. “We’re not done — I’m looking and watching to see what else is feasible.”
The challenge, O’Donnell said, is to increase safety for students without turning schools into fortresses. “We don’t want to turn our schools into prisons — they need to be welcoming places for learning,” he said.
Dorn applauds the bill for setting a minimum standard and giving school districts the freedom to choose the types of locks they use.
One issue Dorn says active shooter simulations have revealed is that, when doors require a key to lock them from the inside, teachers, in the heat of the moment, will often accidentally unlock the door when they mean to lock it.
“It’s not as simple as people think it is,” Dorn said.
This is why he favors doors that automatically lock from the outside when they close, but can always be opened from the inside without a key. However, he said, those doors are expensive and can be out of a school district’s price range.
School safety plans
Authored by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, AB 1747 expands the required elements of school safety plans, including procedures to respond to active shooter situations.
Among other things, it requires schools to conduct annual active shooter drills and requires the California Department of Education to provide additional guidance and oversight of safety plans. The estimated annual statewide cost of the bill is $5 million.
Like O’Donnell, Rodriguez expressed confidence that Brown would sign his bill and described it as part of a larger effort that needs to be made to ensure school safety. But he wasn’t specific as to what should come next.
“Right now, it’s too early to say what else should be done,” Rodriguez said. “Let’s see how these measures work out and then we’ll see if anything else needs to be addressed.”
Dorn said he was happy to see that the bill lays out the broad categories of situations that need to be addressed, like active shooters and natural disasters, but gives districts latitude regarding the types of drills they use.
He said some states, New York state in particular, have made the mistake of mandating specific procedures that may work in larger districts, but not in smaller ones.
“This is some good stuff,” Dorn said of the bill. “I’m not seeing any micromanagement and there are accommodations for smaller school districts.”
Gun violence restraining orders
While not specifically a school safety bill, AB 2888, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, amends the state’s existing “red flag” law to include school personnel, employers and co-workers to the list of people who can seek a restraining order to temporarily take away someone’s guns because of the imminent danger they pose to themselves or others.
Currently, only law enforcement and immediate family members can file for such a restraining order.
“You always hear people say ‘See something, do something,’” Ting said. “But often people see something but don’t know what to do. By expanding this law, we are giving people the opportunity to do something.”
However, Ting’s bill may face stronger opposition from Brown than the other measures. The governor vetoed a similar bill in 2016, citing concerns that the red flag law had just gone into effect earlier in the year and the expansion was coming too soon.
“The major concerns for people opposed to the legislation was that it would be used on too large of a scale,” Ting said. “But so far [the restraining orders] haven’t been overused.”
Ting added that less than 300 restraining orders have been issued since the law went into effect. “We’re hoping that once the governor sees the data, he’ll sign the bill,” he said.
Dorn does not oppose this expansion, but he has said if the bill becomes law, school personnel will have to be trained in how it can be applied. His concern is that people without experience with restraining orders might not understand that their name will be on the documents filed with the court.
“We would advise our clients to request law enforcement officials to seek this type of order to reduce the chances that a student who could be dangerous retaliates against a school employee,” Dorn said in a June interview.