Most U.S. school buildings in use today were originally designed to foster learning, mimicking universities to some extent. Often, their layouts provided many secluded niches to allow students privacy in which to study; separate buildings to house the various disciplines; multiple entrances and exits in buildings to maximize fire safety and emphasize freedom; and spread-out campuses to prevent congestion and to be open to the community. Fences became passe, perhaps for appearance but more likely to cut expenses. Some schools even have public streets running through the campus. These designs were very appropriate and greatly enjoyed 30-40 years ago. Entry control in these facilities has been limited in the past to the coincidence of an adult noticing an outsider on campus and challenging that outsider.
For current security needs, controlling the access of students, employees, and visitors has become paramount. Without major remodeling for some schools, the manpower required to accomplish access control could be enormous, both for entry into buildings and onto the campus itself. (One fairly new high school in Colorado consists of 1 large building but has more than 100 exterior doors.) Technologies such as card swipes or keypads can greatly reduce this manpower requirement, but not without significant expense.
To best control a school building and/or campus, the number of entryways into the building or onto the campus must be severely limited. Just as with any high-security facility, restricting normal entrance to only one or two locations can greatly reduce the number of security personnel or security devices that must be supported. But limiting entry points can be very
difficult for some schools, due to building layout, required emergency egress, property boundaries, the surrounding neighborhood, and adjacent streets.
Some urban schools have no campus per se; their buildings sit directly on streets on one or more sides. This can somewhat reduce the entry control problem but has some inherent problems of its own.
For those schools with campuses, fencing is usually important to control entry onto the school grounds. It is important that schools and communities recognize that enclosing a campus with fencing is more to keep outsiders out than to keep insiders in, although its presence does tend to reduce truancy during the schoolday. Controlling campus entry requires fencing or other physical barriers.
Fencing does not have to be unattractive. Razor tape or barbed wire is rarely appropriate for a school setting but may sometimes be necessary due to vandalism or theft at a school. If adequate funding is available, wrought iron fencing can enhance the appearance of some campuses, while providing a very difficult barrier to climb over. Less expensive but still providing an excellent barrier is an 8-foot chain link fence (exhibit 4.1) with small mesh (1-inch to 11/2-inch). Unlike a typical 6-foot chain link fence, it is difficult to pull up on an 8-foot high fence and a smaller mesh will not allow toeholds. This more desirable 8-foot fencing material is usually about twice the cost per running foot as the cost of standard 6-foot fencing material, but it is probably worth the extra cost, depending on the particular school's risks.
A robust fence defines property boundaries and forces a perpetrator to consciously trespass rather than allowing idle wandering onto a campus that has no fencing. The goal of fencing is to deter the casual or unmotivated trespasser. No fence can keep out someone determined to enter the campus who comes prepared or who is very motivated (i.e., brings a ladder or wire clippers, smashes through the fence with a vehicle, and so forth).
Fencing may be less important for a school that is located in a somewhat remote location. If the majority of students, faculty, and visitors must necessarily get to a particular school on buses or in cars, then the act of restricting vehicle entry to one or two driveways and posting a guard at these locations to validate all vehicle occupants may be adequate without the enclosure of fencing.
For campuses where entry into the building(s) is controlled/restricted and students do not congregate outside during the day, again, fencing may be less useful.
Research Report: The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools