Access Control for K-12 Schools is Far from Elementary

ron baerby Ron Baer,
Director of Business Developmentfor K-12
ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions



We’ve faced a challenging series of events over the past few years. To overcome them, we’ve had to adapt to new rules, procedures, and work environments. Education is no exception.

k-12 securitySchools are rethinking the classroom. Districts are planning for more open, flexible spaces to accommodate experiential learning – indoors and out.

They also want more glass in those settings to add light and visibility, and there’s growing demand for touchless door solutions.

These improvements make electronic access control (EAC) more critical than ever for facilitating safe, fluid movement throughout those spaces, and strengthening security.

classroom securityAnd that only scratches the surface of the many individualized requirements and policy pressures that districts need to satisfy. Meeting their evolving and unique access control needs understandably presents a complex security challenge for the industry.

Adding to the complexity, the K-12 process for funding and budget allocation means there’s always cost/efficacy pressure. While total delivered cost is highly important, efficacy is the biggest concern. Is the system accomplishing what we promised the school, parents, and board? Administrators and the public need to be able to trust that we’ll deliver positive educational outcomes.

How Electronic Access Control Can Move the Needle 

school locksDesigning security for open spaces and flexible classroom locations can be complicated but it is attainable. Electronic access control is an effective way to make the shift more manageable. EAC allows for instant credential customization depending on the entry, classroom configuration, and who needs to be where and when. If a school has the flexibility of onsite control, authorized teachers and staff can nimbly manage access around time of day, facility use, room capacity, and changing situations, including unexpected events.

cabinet lockAccommodating the use of school spaces after hours is easier with EAC, too. When specific people and special groups need temporary access, credentialing and verification is much simpler, eliminating the need for locksmiths to physically rekey and hand out hardware.

EAC for office security is another obvious need. It extends beyond staff safety and protecting records and privacy to securing servers, communication equipment, and supplies, including nurse’s cabinets where medications need to be safeguarded and discreetly accessed.

Lockdown Decisions and Accountability

In recent years, K-12 schools have seen escalating concerns about staff accountability - who has access when, where and why, and how that relates to lockdowns when immediate action is needed. This has raised liability issues. That’s why schools are looking for security choices like EAC that can be explained to them in real but simple terms.

In the case of a fire, the priority is evacuation. When there’s a hurricane, the goal is to take shelter and remain in place. Staying locked inside is often also the most appropriate decision when there’s nearby police activity, a hostage situation, or an active shooter on campus.

school corridor securityThe key question: does a district manage lockdown control from the central office where a push of a button locks every door in a school building, or does it give individual teachers and staff members the ability to quickly lock specific doors in an emergency? Either option is available, and there are benefits to each of them. For some districts, the best solution is a hybrid of both strategies.

For teachers with local access control at each door, the upside is situational awareness. They know what the immediate threat is and where their kids are. The potential downside is relying on them to make rational tactical decisions in a moment of panic. With remote access control from the district or school office, the upside is a central decision made by a specialist who’s monitoring the situation more objectively. The downside is the absence of first-hand situational awareness and the risk associated with locking down everyone in place.

Check out our whitepaper on K-12 Lockdown Strategies for a more in-depth look at this important topic.

ASSA ABLOY can present the pros and cons of these options but it’s up to school stakeholders to decide the policies and how they’ll enforce them. Our job is to provide and support solutions that implement those decisions best.

school door securityFrom Mechanical to Electronic Solutions

In general, mechanical keys and locks remain pervasive in schools across the U.S. But there is a growing trend toward replacing exclusively mechanical hardware with electronic hardware. Until more recently, intelligent access control was typically restricted to a few perimeter doors on school sites. Considerations for parent access, custody issues, skipping class, and intrusions are among the logical reasons why. Now, we see growing demand for intelligent lock systems and EAC for interior doorways.

While adoption of intelligent locks and access control for interior spaces is in the early stages at K-12 schools, we expect a rapid rise over the next five to ten years. Easy retrofitting is helping, making replacement much more cost-effective, especially for smaller school districts short on locksmith labor.

Integrated access control locksets, such as those with wireless and Wi-Fi connectivity, are very simple to install, eliminating the need to run multiple wires and install multiple components around the door. For example, retrofitting with our Aperio® wireless and Intelligent WiFi locks can translate into an 80% savings over traditional access control installations. Power over Ethernet (PoE) is another cost-effective choice, requiring only a single wire. PoE is also very energy efficient.

key controlKey control is another important issue that schools often face. Mechanical keys can be difficult and cumbersome to manage, especially for an entire campus or district. Intelligent Keys allow you to respond quickly to lost or stolen keys or personnel changes without the time and expense of physically rekeying locks.

Mobile device credentials aren’t currently a high priority for K-12 access control like they are in higher ed. But the application does have practical safety benefits for teachers and staff. Those recently out of college who are used to mobile access will likely influence the rate of adoption.


school safety and securityBest Practices for Planning School Security

The best way to land on the right solutions is for schools to establish a broad, cross-functional committee of stakeholders to share needs and to collectively learn about security innovations and trends. Starting from there, they can develop and implement the most appropriate safety, security, and wellness strategies.

It’s also essential to tap into the expertise of ASSA ABLOY from the project conception, in conjunction with architects and partners who will be involved in projects. We know how to dive deep to understand needs and issues and can provide insight and education on solutions and products, as well as alternatives that might not have been considered before.

ASSA ABLOY has innumerable cost-effective ways to help K-12 schools achieve their complex range of access security objectives. Our overarching goal is to positively contribute to a place where students and teachers feel confident enough to stay focused and engaged and relaxed enough to enjoy the experience along the way.