Of all of the duties of a local school board, are any more fundamentally important than keeping the children who are in our care safe from harm?
NJSBA has devoted considerable resources to the issue of how to keep schools safe. In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings in December of 2012, the Association convened a task force to study the issues surrounding school safety. Last fall, NJSBA released the final report of the NJSBA School Security Task Force, “What Makes Schools Safe?”
The report was the work of a dedicated committee that labored over the course of many months to consult with experts in law enforcement, school climate, architecture, building design and emergency response systems. The task force surveyed school districts on their security practices; reviewed current developments affecting the implementation and funding of security measures; identified best practices; and called for changes in statute and regulation that would promote student safety.
We presented the findings to interested audiences at Workshop 2014, at regional forums in the northern, central and southern parts of the state, and here in School Leader magazine. Our intention is for local boards of education to use the report as a resource to guide their decisions on safety in their schools.
I am happy to report that school districts are doing just that. In my travels around the state to county meetings and various training programs, local board members have told me about their district initiatives to improve safety. These include measures such as making facility alterations that limit building access, hiring school resource officers, and implementing school climate programs to ensure healthy emotional development in our students and reach those who are troubled.
In my district, we made changes to the physical plant of our schools to make them safer. In one school, for example, we added a set of doors in the main entrance hall and covered all glass surfaces in ballistic film to create a secure vestibule for those entering the school. Elsewhere we added cameras and fencing. These steps will help “deter, slow and detain,” intruders; a major goal of any security measure.
I am also involved in the work of the New Jersey Task Force on School Security, a group appointed by the governor. While our work is still ongoing, I have shared the final report of NJSBA’s task force with the group, and it was well-received. I expect that some of our findings and recommendations will be included in the final state report.
School safety is an ongoing concern, not a matter to be addressed once and then forgotten. NJSBA will continue to update members on any advancements or news about the topic, and I know that our members will continue to ask the same question I regularly ask myself and my district administrators: What more should we be doing to make sure the children in our district are safe and secure?