The Record: School safety

aPARENTS WANT their children to be safe when they send them off to school in the morning. While local districts have security measures in place, a report released by a state task force shows the importance in continually assessing potential threats and strengthening the facilities.

Incidents at local schools seem rare, but the possibility of danger always exists. It could be something like a report of a suspicious person entering a school without officials noticing or a large-scale event like the horrific Newtown, Conn. school shooting.

In the wake of that horrifying attack, there was panic on the local level across the nation. We saw that in New Jersey, as some districts debated whether armed security personnel was needed inside every school, regardless of the likely risk of an intrusion by a gunman or gunmen.

So security has been much on the minds of local boards of education for some time. Some suggestions in the report are already in place at many districts, while others would prove too costly, despite their effectiveness.

A major recommendation in the report that state legislators should consider is creating a New Jersey School Safety Specialist Academy that the Department of Education would run to establish best practices and training standards. Based on a similar program Indiana has for its schools, this would be good resource for local districts to ensure everyone has updated information on school safety concerns.

The report had 42 recommendations, including having a greater police presence on the school grounds, especially at the start of the day, dismissal and for special events. It also said police could develop trust with the students by speaking on issues like bullying and “sexting.”

Having more school resource officers — local police assigned to schools — shows the need to balance the financial impact and potential harm with the benefits. Having officers on campuses add a source of knowledge and experience that can help maintain order. However, it can also be expensive, and, as the report acknowledges, potentially criminalizes student behavior that would normally be handled by school officials in a quieter manner.

The task force said that adding certain equipment like cameras and metal detectors can be expensive, so it recommended that the districts be free to decide on those as they wish. As school budgets are always tight, that’s the right decision.

Many schools already utilize some of the other recommended practices, like placing cameras outside entrances that are monitored by staff who then need to buzz visitors inside. While many people remember having open campuses where they could go out for lunch, today’s climate calls for tighter facilities.

The task force was created two years ago and now it’s up to the Legislature to discuss the recommendations. Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, plans to hold hearings in the fall and called the report “a good first step.”

We know the report may not be completely groundbreaking, but the legislators should examine each recommendation and push for the ones that make sense and will be affordable.

Most school days will be quiet, which is good. Very good. It’s those rare times when something dangerous does happen that can be horrific. Districts need to find a balance between keeping schools safe and keeping schools places of learning and not fear.

Source: North Jersey