Do I Open the Door to Grab Students During a Lockdown?

14 September 2022



We recently altered our policy and practice following the Uvalde tragedy. We now require that all classroom doors are closed and locked at all times. One question that teachers keep coming back to me with is: Do I still open the door when a lockdown is called and grab any students in the halls?

I have been told that the answer is no. This changes how we educate the students about what to do when they are in transit somewhere in the building.

What advice can you share?


Thanks for the question!

It’s an important and very difficult question. I know firsthand that it weighs heavily on the hearts of teachers. To not open the door and help students goes against everything that teachers believe. However, they also know that to do so puts them and their students locking down in the classroom at greater risk.

Open the door or don’t open the door…it’s a real dilemma!

Here are my pros and cons for each.

NOT opening the door.

  1. Strengthens access control and gives you space (door) and distance from the threat. The closer the threat the greater the danger. This keeps the threat away.
  2. Attacker cannot enter or is greatly hindered from getting inside the classroom. School attackers don’t fight their way through doors. If it’s closed and locked they ignore the classroom.
  3. School attackers on average enter 6 classrooms or fewer. Not opening the door will help to limit this number.
  4. Sweeping for students and then closing your door is not the same as opening a locked door, sweeping for students, and then closing it again. Maintaining a closed door and not touching it will greatly reduce confusion and lessen mistakes.

NOT opening the door.

  1. A closed door locks people out and therefore will put some students and staff members in greater danger. In multiple attacks, staff members and students who were isolated in the halls have accidentally run into the attacker and were murdered.
  2. Creates teacher anxiety because it goes against human and teacher nature to ignore our co-workers and students if they need help.
  3. For staff members who have been around for a while, the new procedure of no longer sweeping for students may be difficult to get accustomed to.


OPEN the door.

  1. Saves lives. Teachers in previous attacks, including Scott Beigel from Parkland, have opened closed classroom doors and saved the lives of students and teachers by pulling them in. We only think of students being trapped in the halls but staff members have also been stuck in the halls.
  2. Instills a feeling of teamwork—that everyone has each other’s back and will help if it is needed.

OPEN the door.

  1. Raises your vulnerability to violence because it weakens 2 of the 6 strategies required to prevent and survive extreme violence (access control and space and distance).
  2. Raises your risk. While teacher Scott Beigel saved lives by opening his door to pull students in, the attacker saw Scott and murdered him as he was trying to relock his door.
  3. Creates a contradiction. Throughout the day the classroom door must be closed and locked so that no threat can enter the classroom…but when a threat is observed the door is opened to let people in. It’s not a logical next step and everything should build on the last step and therefore propel you in the right direction.
  4. Adds one more step to the teacher’s critical steps for a lockdown.
  5. Last year, a school attacker tried to open a classroom door. It was locked. He tugged on it and when he couldn’t open it, he pretended to be a police officer and ordered a class to open the door. The students were tempted but refused. If it is normal for the door to be opened after a lockdown has been initiated there is a greater chance of a potential and horrific mistake being made.

If you go purely from a violence prevention position then the answer is no, never open a door for any reason during a lockdown once it is closed. The pros seem to back this up.

However, the human element as well as the immeasurable pro of saving lives by opening the door is incredibly difficult to ignore—impossible to ignore.

Considering all of this, my recommendation is the following:

  1. Don’t open the door to sweep for students.
    Once it is closed and locked it is closed and locked. It’s important to stress that the more complicated the plan the more likely it will fail. The simpler the plan the more likely it will succeed. Keeping the door closed is the easiest and most simple plan. It is your greatest chance to save as many lives as possible.
  2. Train students and staff members what to do if stuck in the hall.
    It can be as simple as saying, “Quickly assess if the violence is close or far away. The louder the noise, chances are the closer the violence. The quieter the noise, chances are the further away it is. Noise and movement draw human attention—try to limit both the best you can. Do not bang on classroom doors for it may alert the attacker. Instead, try to determine where the violence is inside the school and then run in the opposite direction. Leave the building if you’re close to an exit and when it is safe to do, make contact with law enforcement outside the building. When approaching law enforcement put your hands up and try to speak slowly so they know you’re not the threat.”
  3. Provide the option.
    I can’t ignore the fact that opening the door can and has saved lives. Therefore, you could offer your staff the option of letting them decide for themselves individually and in select situations…but only after they were trained and prepared.

    You know your staff better than I do. If your staff is proficient enough to handle it or determined enough to do it, then you could give them guidelines for when to and when not to open their door. If you believe that by permitting this option that it is too confusing, complicated, or will slow down their response—then I wouldn’t do it.

If you do want to give them this option, I would give them these guidelines to follow.

  1. The safest thing for you and your students is to never open your door during a lockdown.
  2. Some students and staff members may ask to enter your classroom after the door is closed. If you open your door for any reason you are greatly increasing your risk to violence and violating proven violence prevention principles. Therefore, you should only do it when and if you are absolutely certain that it will not cause the loss of more life.
  3. You must also be extremely careful and hypervigilant not to let the attacker in the classroom. Previous attackers have attempted to gain entry.
  4. If you choose to open your door, you are eliminating space (the door) and distance from the threat. The closer the threat the greater the danger. If you open the door you may be face-to-face with the attacker and therefore you must be willing to grab them and physically fight them. If you can’t or don’t feel comfortable doing this then do not open your door for any reason.
  5. Should you decide to open your door—before you do pause, look, and listen. Do not open your door if violence appears extremely close. You will hear loud noises. In previous attacks those close to the violence report that it sounds like a metal trashcan being thrown against the wall, ear piercing explosions (gunfire), loud screaming, people running past their rooms. If you experience this and it appears that the violence is extremely close—do not open your door.
  6. In previous attacks those further away from the violence report that it sounds like firecrackers in the distant and seeing people standing or walking in the halls. This might mean that the violence is not close to you yet. If you choose to let students and staff members into your classroom, act fast and be certain that those entering are not carrying a weapon.
  7. If you open your door, never unlock your door. Always keep it locked so you can quickly close the door and lock out any perceived threats.
  8. If you feel compelled to let a student or staff member into your classroom, pull them in as quickly as possible and then both of you get away from the door. The closer you are to the door the closer you are to potential violence. Do it quickly and get away from the door.
  9. Above all, do whatever you can to save as many lives as possible! This may mean not opening your door for any reason!

I hope this helps! I know it’s a very difficult and tricky situation. If you need help preparing your staff—let me know. I’m happy to help.

If you need help putting together a more precise set of guidelines as well as what to say to those who may be stuck in the halls—let me know and I’m happy to help with that too. If you just want to talk this through a little bit more or include your safety team in the discussion, we can do a phone or zoom conference.

Either way—I’m here and happy to help!


We can help you speed up your lockdowns! We'll visit your school, work with your staff, and show your leadership how to get your lockdowns to 7 seconds!

email or text 540-577-7200

Click here here for more blogs from Don

Don's Blog

Sign up to receive more blogs, quick tips, videos, and other resources!

Don is available for district professional developments, Safe & Loved Vulnerability Assessments, and Leadership Coaching.

If you want to inspire your school and teachers to think of school safety in a different and more positive way, call or email...



PO BOX 474 Radford, VA 24143

Phone and text

(540) 577-7200



Copyright © 2019 Don Shomette