The moment she heard the first pops of gunfire, the teacher knew what she had to do: She needed to make sure that her classroom door was locked.
But at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that seemingly simple task would require her to take a life-threatening risk.
As most of her students crawled under their desks to take cover, she made eye contact with one child she had always given the same job during their lockdown drills, the teacher recalled in an interview. Without speaking, the student followed her to the classroom door.
“Do you remember what we do?” the teacher asked the boy, trying to keep her voice calm.
The boy, with tears in his eyes, nodded and said, “Yes, ma’am.”
Then the teacher pulled the door open. Took a deep breath. And stepped into the hall, praying that the shooter wouldn’t see her.
Moving toward gunfire was the only way she could be certain that her students were safe, the teacher said. That’s because Robb Elementary is among thousands of schools across the country lacking a basic safety feature that experts have recommended for decades: classroom doors that lock from the inside.
Despite billions of dollars that have been poured into hardening schools nationally, 1 in 4 U.S. public schools lack classroom doors that can be locked from the inside, according to a survey conducted two years ago by the National Center on Education Statistics, a federal research office.
The safety feature is missing in much of Texas: 36% of the state’s schools said they did not have interior-locking doors in the majority of their classrooms, according to a 2018 survey commissioned by Gov. Greg Abbott. Outdated locks are especially common in older school buildings that haven’t been renovated, industry representatives said.