Security Theater Comes to School

By Lenore Skenazy

March 13, 2013 6 min read

"Do something."

Those were the urgent but rather nonspecific marching orders given to schools — or at least the orders that schools seemed to hear — in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. Do something that really makes kids safer or something so annoying that it feels as if you're making kids safer. It really didn't seem to matter which. And seeing as our kids were already very safe at school before the shooting rampage (not perfectly safe — no one ever is — but safer than at home or in a car), there wasn't much more that schools could do to improve upon this decent state of affairs.

So many did the opposite. They said to heck with being an open, welcoming neighborhood center and have spent the past few months pointlessly inconveniencing teachers, students, parents, volunteers and, especially, school secretaries.

"My kid's elementary school now has all the interior doors locked," one mom wrote after I asked readers at and to describe what their schools were doing in the name of "safety." "Hallways/wings are now locked. Teachers have keys around their necks and are constantly fumbling to find the right key to get to PE or lunch or art. When I go to volunteer in the library (because I have been fingerprinted and cleared!) I have to be let in through two locked doors by one of the secretaries. Not sure how her regular job is getting done, because now she spends most of her day unlocking doors."

In Germany — Germany! — another mom wrote: "In the wake of Sandy Hook we now have a locked door at our elementary school. Since the buzzer runs down to the secretary's first floor office and has neither video nor intercom, she has to walk down in person to open up." Not only does this waste the woman's time, noted the mom, but also it requires extraordinary bravery. After all, "she would clearly be the first person to be shot by a rampant gunman."

The fact that we can chuckle at that idea (and you can chuckle and not be a jerk) just shows that in our heart of hearts, we know how incredibly unlikely that event is. Yet schools are piling on the procedures as if the fact that someone, somewhere experienced a terrible tragedy once means that everyone, everywhere is at risk of terrible tragedies all the time.

This outlook has pushed some spooked schools to move beyond the door-locking and secretary-schlepping scenarios to dreaming up new dangers and wacky ways to combat them. One teacher who works part time at seven different schools reported that now, whenever she arrives to help out, she must go to the classroom door, state her name, show her ID and give the secret password. (Is it "Swordfish"?) No one will unlock the door till she does.

At her daughter's high school, another mother wrote, students must now submit a background check on their prom date! Yes, if the date is from a different school, he or she is not allowed in without credentials. Just like at Langley.

I've heard of other schools that have begun requiring all students to wear identification tags, which stumped me — how on earth could this prevent anything? — until a parent explained that this way the gunman would be easier to spot; he's the one without an ID.

Yeah, and with an Uzi.

And then there's the school in Fargo, N.D., that has told its teachers that if they hear a fire alarm but don't immediately smell smoke, they should barricade the kids inside the classroom and stay put. After all, it could be a gunman trying to lure the kids into the hall. (In truth, the school had that rule even before the Newtown tragedy. But after it, the school ran the drill.)

Fear makes folks irrational, which explains why any of these measures morphed into bona fide rules. But now that we've had a little time to think, it's time to re-examine them with the kind of clearheadedness an 11-year-old recently showed. She and her mom were going to pick up her younger brother at a Sunday school that had just started locking all its doors but one. (This meant the parents and students now had to walk through a busy parking lot, but hey, gunman danger apparently trumps little-kids-running-between-a-bunch-of-cars danger.)

"They want everyone to go in and out of the same door," her mother explained. Whereupon the daughter wondered, "Won't that just make it easier for someone who wanted to shoot or bomb people, because everyone will be in the same place?"

That's the kind of question you ask when you don't have a stake in security theater — or when you don't feel compelled to do "something" no matter how dumb.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)" and "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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