Thomas Jefferson maintenance worker creates school safety device
Jay Atkinson spent a day walking the halls at Thomas Jefferson High School, knowing there had to be a better way to keep potential intruders out of classrooms.
The high school maintenance worker had watched a news segment about school locks that left him with questions.
“I just want to keep the kids safe,” said Atkinson, of Jefferson Hills.
He pieced together parts for a new lock in his mind, then tested the idea. He came up with a working lock called the AuxLoc that he is marketing to schools and other potential customers.
The AuxLoc is designed to be placed on the lower part of doors in schools, and is activated by kicking it into place. Federal law only allows key locks to be placed on exterior doorknobs, keeping intruders from entering classrooms and giving police time to respond, Atkinson said.
Teachers are supposed to lock their doors from the outside with a key when entering their classrooms, he said, but if they fail to do so and are inside the room when an intruder enters the building, getting to the lock on the outside of the door could be difficult.
His lock also provides a way for police and school officials to enter the classroom quietly, if need be, such as in the case of a hostage situation, Atkinson said. The AuxLoc also would provide added protection if an intruder had a master key, he said.
Atkinson invented his lock after the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and after hearing about other security locks being made.
“I said, ‘I work in a school, why can't I come up with something?' The next day, it hit me,” he said.
Atkinson said he always has been good at handiwork.
As a child, he took apart his father's new lawnmower. His mother yelled at him, but he assured her he would put it back together and he did.
At Thomas Jefferson High School, Atkinson said he fixes whatever is broken.
“He's very handy,” West Jefferson Hills School District Superintendent Michael Panza said. “We're fortunate that he works here.”
Atkinson put one of his locks on a conference room door at the high school to test it.
“Jay is a wonderful employee and you can tell just how much he cares,” Panza said.
District officials have not considered any lock product for schools, including the AuxLoc, Panza said. The district did add safety measures in schools this summer, but he declined to give specifics.
“All of our doors do lock right now. A lot of our teachers are doing what they're supposed to be doing by locking their doors when they go into the classroom,” Panza said. “There is a plan in place and we hope we never have to use it.”
Thomas Jefferson High School art teacher Kirk Salopek designed graphics and a logo for the AuxLoc.
Atkinson uses a display trailer to show off the device. He was in the Elizabeth Borough Riverfest parade and Clairton parade in recent weeks, showing the device to local officials.
He plans to attend a statewide education conference in October to share his invention with other school district leaders and start selling the lock. The AuxLoc costs $160 and Atkinson, for now, plans to make the devices himself.
He wishes he could have invented it when his two eldest children were in high school.
“If I can save one life, that's what I want to do with this,” he said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.