How NJ schools hope to keep your kids safe this year
Keeping children safe, many would argue, is as important of a goal for schools as providing them with a solid education.
Heading into the 2018-2019 academic year, schools throughout the Garden State are upping their security game to ensure they're not the next site of a horrific tragedy.
"Unfortunately, our sense of security has been shattered by the events of recent years," said Janet Bamford, manager of communications and publications for the New Jersey School Boards Association. "However, I think it has made schools aware and proactive in this area."
Over the past two years, according to Bamford, school security upgrades have been included in the construction referendums approved by voters in several districts, including Lawrence in Mercer County, Woodbridge in Middlesex County, and Farmingdale in Monmouth County.
A common upgrade seen in a number of schools, she said, is an entrance vestibule — sometimes called a "man trap" — that forces visitors to get the green light from a school staffer before a second set of doors can be opened.
"Often these things have bullet-resistant glazing on windows and door windows," she said.
Earlier this month, Toms River joined a growing list of New Jersey towns adding to the presence of armed police officers in schools. Each of the town's public schools will be assigned a Class III officer, or special resource officer — they're not only on site to prevent or mitigate a school shooting, but to build a relationship with students and intervene, when appropriate, in cases of bullying, substance abuse and other issues.
Since the class of officer was officially created in 2017, the state's Police Training Commission has approved 90 waivers for retired officers to complete the special training, according to the Division of Criminal Justice.
Districts can also bring in full-time cops who solely serve the purpose of having an armed guard on site.
In Lakewood, metal detectors add another layer of security beyond the 20-plus officers roaming the schools' halls.
With the help of a federal grant, officials from the state have visited more than 800 New Jersey schools over the past few years to perform unannounced active-shooter drills, according to Ben Castillo, director of the Office of School Preparedness and Emergency Planning, within the state Department of Education.
"We get a really good picture of how things would be, pretty much in real time," Castillo said. "It's really well done in the spirit of providing technical assistance. It's not a 'gotchya.'"
This summer, Castillo's office ran six regional training sessions for administrators assigned as school districts' school safety specialists — a position created with a state law signed in 2017. Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday signed a measure into law that allows any school employee with the right expertise to be designated as the district's school safety specialist.