After latest shooting, NJ school district changes stance on hiring armed guards
MIDDLETOWN — A Monmouth County school district is putting an armed police officer in each of its schools in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
The Middletown Patch reported that Tuesday evening's vote was unanimous among the school district's nine Board of Education members.
A Letter of Intent outlining the approved measures includes placing an off-duty police officer at each of the district's 16 schools through the end of this June. These officers, carrying guns, will be paid $50 an hour.
For the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, the district will hire Class III special law enforcement officers, or SLEOs. Each school in Middletown will be assigned one Class III SLEO at a rate of $35 an hour.
While Class I and Class II officers cannot carry firearms, Class III officers are unique in their ability to legally be armed. To qualify, candidates must have retired from a police department within the last three years. They will report to the local police chief.
School board President Frank Capone tweeted Wednesday afternoon that Gov. Phil Murphy and the state teachers' union should "reimburse" any schools that hire armed officers.
"If we can protect the Governor & State House officials, we should protect the children & the staff that we all cherish & love dearly," Capone said.
Capone did not immediately respond to a request for comment from New Jersey 101.5 inquiring about how the state teacher's union would pay for the guards.
Mayor Tony Perry told the Patch that the township will cover the costs initially but the school board will pay Middletown back.
"The town will be paying the retired special police officers out of the police department budget, and the school district will pay us back," Perry said. "At our next meeting June 6, the Township Committee plans to unanimously approve this and make this happen."
Perry added that he first proposed armed officers in Middletown schools upon taking office in 2019.
Capone told New Jersey 101.5 that it was previous members of the school board who did not agree with Perry's proposal at the time. He said the former school board members opposed having officers if they carried firearms.
"Also, we have come to find out that those same board members requested that police patrols cease on school grounds," Capone said. "The Uvalde event certainly brought this back to the spotlight. Still, it seems the true catalyst to not accomplishing this earlier may have been more about social justice politics than rational security decisions.”
School board Vice President Jacqueline Tobacco said on Facebook that the approved measure will build on other efforts to keep students safe, including new guidance counselors.
"This action, along with increased funding for mental health services, is a commitment from our administration, board & township to put our children first and foremost," Tobacco said.