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In case of emergency

Howard Elementary is the second school in the Medford district to get a handle on safety in an era of school shootings.

Locksmiths installed three new door handles at Howard Thursday that can be locked, with a key, from inside classrooms.

During emergency lockdowns, teachers have had to step into hallways and breezeways to secure doors.

"A few times we had scares at schools and had lockdowns, but primarily this has been a nationwide scare because of school shootings," said district locksmith Tim White.

The new Schlage D Series classroom locks are the first tangible results of a $189 million school bond package voters approved in November.

The door handles can be secured from the inside or outside but can be opened from the inside whether locked or unlocked.

Crews are expected to install about 40 new door handles at Howard by the end of today.

Seventeen out of the 18 campuses in the district will receive the new door hardware by the fall.

Wilson and Jacksonville elementary schools are next on the itinerary for the school locksmiths.

Abraham Lincoln Elementary, the district's newest school, was built with locks that secure from the inside.

In all, about 900 door handles will be replaced at a cost of $190 each, and 130 "panic bars" will be installed at $750 each for a total of about $270,000. Panic bars allow doors to be pushed open without turning a knob. Maintenance crews will re-key the district at the same time. If portions of schools such as Lone Pine Elementary and North Medford High are demolished during bond projects, the hardware will be preserved for the new construction.

White's daughter, Heather Taylor, a teacher at Hedrick Middle School, will be one of the district staff members who will benefit from the new door handles.

"She has commented how nice it would be not to have to step out in the hallway to lock her classroom doors," White said. "During a lockdown, that could be terrifying."

The locks were designed specifically for schools in an era of school shootings punctuated by deadly events at Thurston High School in Oregon in 1998 and Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

Concerns about outdoor locks at Medford schools intensified last fall during a spate of school shootings across the nation between Sept. 27 and Oct. 2, including one at an Amish school in southeastern Pennsylvania.

"The old locks used to be fine because they were intended to allow students to escape in case of a fire," White said. "Now, with all the terrible stuff that has happened, we need to protect students in a new way, so teachers don't have to lock doors from the outside, and students can escape during a fire."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

Medford School District maintenance worker Tim White installs new locks at Howard Elementary School Thursday afternoon. The locks allow teachers to secure classrooms from the inside.