School shooting fears prompt Michigan classroom barricade bill

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing — As Michigan students return to school, state lawmakers are debating legislation that would ensure districts can install “temporary door barricade devices” to lock down classrooms in the event of an active shooter.

Sponsoring Rep. Scott Van Singel, R-Grant, said the bill was inspired by “sad circumstances” in other states where mass school shootings have devastated communities and prompted national fears of copycat crimes.

Nightlock of Mount Morris is one of the Michigan companies that sells barricaded door devices and supports legislation to ensure school districts can install them.

“There’s not one single fix, but this is another one of those fixes,” Van Singel said Tuesday in testimony before the House Regulatory Affairs Committee, which is expected to continue deliberation on the legislation.

Schools across Michigan have already begun installing temporary door barricades despite fire safety rules that generally discourage blocking evacuation routes.

A 2015 Michigan Fire Marshall bulletin authorized the use of “certain barricade devices, with proper training and installation,” but experts say there is still uncertainly in the rules and want to update state law to permit their use.

“When you’re talking about human lives, and something very simple that could prevent a mass shooting like this, we need to make sure that our fire codes are up to modern standards and are common sense, essentially,” Van Singel said.

The proposal is backed by school and law enforcement officials, along with two Michigan companies that make barricade devices for classroom doors, including The Lockout Co. of Fowlerville and Nightlock of Mount Morris.  

Nightlock produces floor and lower side lock-down mounts that teachers, staff or other users can slide into place to barricade a classroom door.

Lockout sells a product called “The Boot,” a 3/8-inch steel plate with pins slides into a door and locks into a floor mounted steel sleeve. The company claims it can withstand 16,000 pounds of force.

A “smart” version triggers lock-down warnings and alerts police if the boot is lifted from a mount for use as a temporary barricade. It also features shot detection technology that police can use to locate a shooter.

“This buys law enforcement time,” said Midland County Sheriff Scott Stephenson, who testified in support of the legislation.

Kingsley Area Schools Superintendent Keith Smith said his district was inspired to purchase a barricade system after an incident roughly five years ago in which a 5th grade student brought a loaded gun to class.

“At that time, he was either going to commit suicide or shoot one of his classmates,” Smith said of the incident, which ended without violence after a classmate reported the pistol. “We never did figure out what was the motive behind that.”

The district explored other safety options, including narrowing the school to a single point of entrance but ultimately concluded it could not keep unwanted visitors out of a building all together, Smith said. They ended up buying the boot barricade system.

“This is something that makes my kids immediately safe,” he told lawmakers. “Don’t have to go into the hallway. Don’t have to lock anything. I mean, immediately, as soon as it’s placed in lock down, you drop it in the door and you make as many kids as safe as absolutely possible.”

Nightlock CEO Jack Taylor said his company started making residential door barricades 20 years ago and began fielding inquiries from school districts in the wake of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people, including 20 kids.

“At first we didn’t want to do it, because of the stigma of looking like we’re chasing an ambulance,” Taylor said. “So we weren’t going to do it, but we had so many schools calling us.”

The company has now sold its Lockdown devices to schools in 300 Michigan districts and in all 50 states, he said.

Rob Couturier designed the boot barricade after his daughter was attacked in their hometown of Williamston while she was home from college for Thanksgiving. She encouraged him to continue the design after Sandy Hook and now works with him.

“It’s all about the kids, period,” Couturier told lawmakers.

Van Singel worked with the Michigan firms on the legislation but said he is drafting changes to ensure the proposal is vendor-neutral and does not steer school districts toward any specific company.

The bill would require any temporary door barriers in schools to be portable and not permanently affixed to a classroom door.

There must be a way for  law enforcement officers or other officials to open the barricaded door, which also must be able to open from the inside without a key or special tool.