Does your school facilitate a shooting?

Published 1:35 am Saturday, May 26, 2018

Overall, I have concentrated 20 years of research efforts on how a school design influences student and teacher behavior. Given the rash of school shootings recently, I felt obligated to bring to the attention of school leaders, students, and parents some of my studies that focused primarily on a safe place to learn, including location of a school house. One main question guiding my extensive research was: Is this school a safe, secure, and comfortable place to learn? At the end of this article you will find an internet link that gives an extensive set of references and citations to my works.

Here are several items that existing schools and schools in the planning phase should consider for the sake of safety and security:

  • Centrally located administrative offices help make a school a safer place for students.
  • Separate age-level playgrounds are important for younger students.
  • Separation of large and small children provide a sense of security and safety among young children.
  • Bathrooms in classrooms help reduce fear among children as compared to gang-toilets.
  • Supervisable circulation patterns offer a sense of protection and security.
  • Day security system (alarms, lights, locks) provide elevated levels of security when installed and operated properly.
  • Developmentally appropriate playground equipment minimizes accidents.
  • Safe playground equipment reduces hazards.
  • An evening security system (alarms, lights, locks) protects property and individuals that must be in the buildings after hours.
  • The site and learning environments are free of excessive non-pedestrian traffic, hazards, and noise.
  • The school is not located near a land fill.
  • The setback from high voltage power lines is no less than 300 feet. Although this item was not stated or implied in the studies, it is an issue that is addressed by codes in most governments.
  • Natural or built barriers protect the school.


Consider some of the schools where shootings have occurred.

Regarding the above items, we may speculate about what would the outcomes have been if Columbine High School were not a monolithic (large multi storied) structure? Likewise study places where mass shootings have taken place. The Columbine High School Facility, for example, violated many of the design principles found in our University of Georgia studies, some of which are listed here. At Columbine, students were trapped with no place to go. This may have been a major factor in the recent Florida and Texas school shootings as well.   This point should be addressed in these recent incidents. Think about this issue when designing schools and other buildings. Locking down in a monolithic building where violence is occurring seems to violate the natural instinctive defense for life (run away as fast as you can). Remaining in one classroom makes the target easy for the violator. Does building a school designed as a trap enhance safety and security issues?

Think about this: If you are in a hallway and a shooter is in the room next door, are you going to run for the outside, or duck into a room, close the door, and wait for the shooter to come into your room? Overall, this list of school design items is devoted to a language for building a school by including the consideration of motivational components presented in Maslow’s theory of human needs where safety and security are of great importance.



Dr. Ken Tanner is a native of Covington County, Alabama and a graduate of Opp High School. He earned a B.A. Degree in mathematics from Troy University and Masters’ and Doctoral Degrees from The Florida State University in Mathematics Education, Planning, Management, Research, and School Administration. His academic career included Professorships at The University of Tennessee and The University of Georgia. His main focus during the past 20 years has been on how school facilities influence student behavior and learning. He has served as a consultant for school facility planning in several states.