Is This Illegal Access Control At The Local School Gate?

Janky access control added at my child's kindergarten:

Shot from the parking lot side,

Shot from inside the courtyard:

The problem is to get out you need to push the top thingy while turning the handle. So two hands, no instructions...

This is part of a wooden fence that surrounds the lower half of the school and the entire playground area.

There are no other exits except to climb over the fence, (possible for healthy adults, painful for me, difficult for others), without going back thru the school.

There is about 50 feet between the fence and the building.

They added the extra button push at top because to prevent children from exiting.

Is it illegal?

Should I say something?

It's not illegal, at least in terms of emergency egress, because 'outside' is the goal and not addressed by building codes.

Surely, it is a pain to use, but it doesn't look to be unlawful or against codes.

They could use electric fence and shock collars on the children and remove that hardware altogether.

What considered outside? Anything without a roof?

Devil's advocate: In an ampitheater or a sports stadium the people are 'outside', but surely egress laws apply somehow?

These scenarios are why Building Occupancy Codes are so relevant. In general, the area outside a building perimeter is not classified in a special way, but stadiums or outdoor gather spaces that are enclosed (ie: no roof) may require egress considerations.

I read a recent story where a corn maze fell under scrutiny from an AHJ for lack of egress routes. That's fairly absurd, in my opinion, but I'm not the AHJ either!

I think the difference here is that arenas and stadiums, even if they're open, generally force people to go back inside to leave. Unless we're talking a small school sports field where it's just fence and bleachers, egress typically means you're evacuating through the inside of the structure, not the outdoor section.

If I remember correctly, courtyards in the middle of buildings typically are not considered "outside" for the purposes of egress, either.

Also a lot of these structures are multi-level and have things under them that could burn in case of fire, meaning that they're still totally unsafe even if they're outside.

A fenced in yard or lot doesn't (typically) have that threat. Granted, no one wants to hear that their child is being penned in in case of fire, but it's not without logic. I think an AHJ should still be consulted re: best and safest practices here.

Actually after typing all that up I recalled that I once put access control on a large fenced outdoor yard at a nursing home, on two gates. We did consult with the AHJ and they said egress was not a consideration as it was already outside. YMMV depending on locale.

I have experience with 'big box' home improvement retailers that are required to hang panic bars on their outdoor, chain link enclosed garden centers because the occupancy codes required it.

Same experience here. Courtyards at each end of an assisted living facility with maglocks on the gate, and only a card reader for egress. No emergency override whatsoever...except for cutting the power to the maglock, of course.

That is somewhat dangerous, but not unlawful. It looks like it may have been installed to be out of reach of the children. It sure surely have a graphic instruction for the adult that may need to open it. Best, would be some kind of single action physically actuated mechanism such as a push bar in case a quick exit is in order, but that won't keep a wandering kid inside.

Egress aside, I'd tell them to get a cover for that latch. You could pop that lock in about 5 seconds. It's not secure at all.

You know the old saying: "Locks only keep honest people honest", or in this case "Locks only keep Und1 from hopping the fence"...

By the way, here's a latch guard:

(Leave it to IPVM to take a gripe about too much hardware and convert it into one that suggests adding more!)

Hey normally I'd not say anything, but with kids involved, the extra measure is worthwhile.

btw, its quite susceptible to the flir phone hack as well, since there is one code e-mailed to everyone once a month. The residual heat from 50 people hitting the same code in a 15 minute period could probably be detected without getting out of your car.

Good eye!

Maybe its for first responders ;)

No issue here considering it's common to see padlocks in use on elementary school perimeter gates. Kids walking off campus is a real and routine issue.

What about doors on the building itself then?

Are certain schools/daycares exempt from the normal codes requiring free egress to all occupants?

Always free exit on building doors to comply with fire code. I've seen audible exit alarms on these doors.

Consider fire drills, the kids always go outside and usually assemble within the perimeter fence.

In some cases, Delayed Egress can be used which keeps the door locked until a 15 second delay (30 seconds is sometimes allowed by exception) expires.

I should add that I see panic exit hardware on pedestrian gates when the gate is very near the building.

btw, what exactly do you call this thingy:

~$95 at home improvement stores:

BTW this device requires a key on both sides, no Free Egress even if you can reach it. We have one on the community pool gate so folks cant reach over and open it up to let people in. Works well when you have the key :-) Might have a unlocked function, not sure.

Bonus question for all EAC gurus:

So is this system really just two independent locks, maybe that share the same physical key?

The keyways are totally different, so two separate keys:

Good catch!

So on the secure side we have a integrated pin reader/controller and electronic mortise lockset, with key override.

And on the other we have

two independant momentary release locks that don't (normally) latch, used together to create a double-handed, child-proof opening.

I'm pretty sure I screwed up the terms there.

Tell me the truth, this is GateSlammer territory, no?

There are better, tighter ways to integrate the two locks, but 'gate slammer' seems tough.

I doubt the top latch is ever locked. It essentially works like a thumb button activated latch.

I also don't think that's mortise electronic keypad lock; it is likely cylindrical.

The proper way to describe this as a 'two point manual gate latch' setup.

I also don't think that's mortise electronic keypad lock; it is likely cylindrical.

Agreed. The handle threw me.

All of the discussions above seem to cover egress laws. What about ADA accessibility laws?

I would not think that this is legal for the reason that "... to get out you need to push the top thingy while turning the handle. So two hands, no instructions..."

This is interesting, because the answer is 'maybe'.

ADA requirements extend to 'public entrances', but in the case of this gate,  I would think it would be categorized as a 'restricted entrance' since traffic both in and out is conditionally granted.

However, if this gate was in the direct access path to a main building entrance, and there was not a more overt, more accessible entry to the building, it might violate ADA.  (ADA 206.4)

After I casually ranted about this two-handed egregious egress to my wife, unbeknownst to me, she loosely relayed my unvarnished concerns to the school administration herself, citing the source only as someone 'who deals with this stuff everyday'.  

She said she tried to be faithful to both tone and content of my tirade, repeating verbatim terms-of-art like "free egress" and "latchbolt", as well as some less formal, but still common jobsite phrases like "outta their minds" and "you gotta be kiddin me".  

Notably, she inadvertently mistranslated one of my humorous labels aimed at the original contractor, by referring to him as "a real doorslammer".  

Even so, the good news is that they responded quickly and implemented a inarguably "one-handed" operation.

Bad news is they simply put a keypad on the inside as well :(

Pictures to follow.


Nice...  "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."

Looking forward to the pictures.

"The squeaky wheel gets the grease."

Thanks for reminding me, it certainly needs it!

Although secondary in concern to the egress mechanism operation, the sound made while using it is exactly what you might expect from a "doorslammer" install:

A long, tritonic wail, ascending in pitch when opening, then in reverse when closing, ending with the thud and full second of confidence diminishing door, latch and fence rattling.

Perhaps a new discussion: "Yes, but how does your access control sound?" ;)

This gate will look like swiss cheese by the time we're done picking it apart if they keep modifying based on forum feedback.

This gate will look like swiss cheese...

A fan of layered security, eh?



4 digit code, hard to press buttons.

Note in the first shot, that although this is technically outdoors, its probably not a place you would children confined in during a fire.

In any event, if this door was indoors, would it be illegal then?


I've emailed Lori Greene (The Best Security Manufacturer Blog) on this to check code compliance.  I'll update here with her response.

Lori responded:

It’s hard to say without seeing the situation, but if the gate is required for egress then locking it on both sides is not code-compliant. 

If the area contained by the fence is large enough to qualify as a safe dispersal area, the building occupants may not have to go through the gate, but it requires a pretty big space. 

There’s more info about safe dispersal areas here:


That's helpful, thanks!

...when access to a public way can’t be provided, a safe dispersal area is required, where building occupants can wait for fire department assistance. This safe dispersal area – a location within the fenced area or enclosed court – must meet the following requirements:

  1. The safe dispersal area must be large enough to provide at least 5 square feet of space for each building occupant (see below for variations on this requirement for stadiums and I-2 occupancies).
  2. The area must be on the same lot and at least 50 feet away from the building, accessed by a safe and unobstructed path.
  3. The area must be permanently maintained and identified as a safe dispersal area, and cannot be used for another purpose such as parking, storage, or temporary structures.

IMHO, in this instance #1 Pass, #2 Fail, #3 Fail


It sounds like the next PTA meeting will be total war.  Take pictures of that, too.  :)

So what's the guideline on attempted tailgating on exit?

Are you technically not supposed to let the person out on your authorized door swing?

Tailgating, or how to prevent it, is not addressed by code. 

Trapping people in dangerous places, however, is prohibited.  

So, to combat tailgating on exit: You are allowed to install full height turnstiles on exits, for example.  (As long as you provide enough of them to handle surge traffic.)   You can even lock them to require a scan or PIN to enter.  You just cannot lock them on exit.

Got it.  But as a practical matter, I was asking if an installation will typically give guidance on exit tailgating, (assuming it is setup to handle credentials on exit), like it might for entry tailgating, e.g. "Don't let anyone out on your swipe, etc..."

Or maybe exit tailgating is not enforced much since the person is already in the building.


I believe that "exit tailgating" would be handled the same was as whatever you would consider standard "tailgating". You would set your access system up to prohibit anti passback (or whatever you ACS calls it). In this case if someone was to exit without scanning their credential they would not be allowed reentry. They would need to scan their credential on the exit reader before the system would allow for reentry. I doubt that you will find this functionality on any standalone keypad locks, like what have been shown in the pictures. This is typically a function of a networked ACS.

I doubt that you will find this functionality on any standalone keypad locks, like what have been shown in the pictures. This is typically a function of a networked ACS.

Definitely not present on this system. Though theoretically possible since all traffic to and from the school (normally) passes thru this one portal.  But I was just asking about exit tailgating in general, more in the corporate setting.

They would need to scan their credential on the exit reader before the system would allow for reentry.

This complicates the chronic piggybacker's habit by requiring him to keep state information throughout the day, to avoid the undesirable possibilities 2 & 4.

  1. Scan In - Scan Out 
  2. Scan In - Sneak Out
  3. Sneak In - Sneak Out
  4. Sneak In - Scan Out

If the gate is not Labeled as an exit on the inside.  It's not illegal, why is there a gate there to begin with? 

Local code would dictate the need for a gate and it's use.  AHJ interpretation of the local code will also dictate the need and use for the gate.


It is dangerous to presume that because any opening is not labeled 'exit', then it is not a functional exit.  

Improper/no signage is not uncommon, especially considering the retrofitted (post architect) design/installed nature of fences and gates.

Map showing seperation of Church and Gate



I guess pin access on both sides is not working out....

Now do we get the latch AND the pin for exit?

That sounds like a 'people factors' issue to solve with process or human oversight, not one that's fixed with 'engineering controls'.   Maybe hang a loud siren at the gate that goes off if the code doesn't disarm it first?

Can the school protect the exit area against car traffic, with bollards or guardrails or something?

Forgetting the gate/outside area complication, what is the rule for kindergarten age school exits from the building?

I know free egress is normally mandated for adults, but what about 5 year olds? 

I'm not aware of age-conditional Occupancy Codes, but there might very well be something excepting playgrounds or adjacent to schools.

Lori Greene already chimed in to say the codes are pretty inflexible against locking anyone in here, and I have a hunch that's going to be consensus.

I guess if you can reach the handle, then it better turn.

True story: on one project I was on, the AHJ made the hardware supplier replace the push bar type panic devices:

With the lever-y type (lever-y is a technical term, I swear):

Because elementary school kids had a harder time pushing the flat bars.

Turns out there was just an issue with the original hardware tension which they could fix in the field, but the AJH wasn't having it.

We are working with a daycare, with 8 classrooms, each classroom has push bars to get out. The only thing I could think of was to put contacts on each door so that they receive instant notification if the door is opened. The doors all open into a fenced area, so no direct access to parking lots

The doors all open into a fenced area...

How does one get out of the fenced area?

Update: This morning...

On my way out of the school after drop-off, I hustled to catch the closing gate only to watch it be pulled shut by another parent on their way out. I heard the latch and then her mumble “no following”.

To which I responded, (like the Dude might), “It’s called tailgating.”  I can only imagine how I would have felt had I not had that quick comeback ready.

Thanks IPVM!