Safety vs. Transparency Debated in LA Schools

A new debate has cropped up Los Angeles area schools, centered around the recent molestation scandals and lawsuits as well as an increase in school shootings. Many schools have a policy of locking classroom doors as a security measure. Yet locked doors in Los Angeles may have enabled Mark Berndt, a Miramonte Elementary School teacher to abuse his students.

Behind a locked classroom door, a Los Angeles third-grade teacher purportedly committed lewd acts against students. The charges spurred demands for classrooms to remain open during the school day.

But after the shooting deaths of 20 first-graders in Connecticut last month, calls were made to keep classrooms locked.

The intent of both efforts is to keep students safe. But as school districts nationwide examine their security measures following the Newtown, Conn., massacre, the question of locked versus unlocked classroom doors is in debate. Should teachers and administrators use their secured doors as a shield from an outside danger? Or does a locked door conceal a potential danger inside?

The answers differ. Some schools, such as the 14 operated by local charter group PUC Schools, are required to keep doors open. Others, including the campuses in the Martinez Unified School District in Contra Costa County, require classrooms to be secured at all times. The Los Angeles Unified School District, like many others, leaves it up to administrators and instructors to decide, and the decision can vary from teacher to teacher. LA Times, 13 Jan 2013.

The LA Unified Schol District faces at least six lawsuits from dozens of students and parents, as well as almost 200 claims, as a result of the abuse. Berndt awaits trial in jail, after pleading not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct.

Image Credit: Irfan Khan for Los Angeles Times