‘ALYSSA Act’ school alarm bill honors Woodcliff Lake, NJ native killed in Parkland shooting
Among the 17 people killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was Alyssa Alhadeff, a New Jersey native who is already the namesake of school safety legislation in the Garden State.
Now U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-NJ, is sponsoring federal legislation with the same spirit that "Alyssa's Law" has here, to require the installation of silent panic alarms in schools to immediately notify law enforcement of an active shooter situation.
The ALYSSA Act, standing for Alyssa's Legacy Youth in School Safety Alert, would have another purpose, according to Gottheimer.
"Making sure there's more school resource officers in the school that are well-trained, God forbid there's an attack, to know what to do and where to instruct our children," he said, "and then secondly to make sure we have these silent panic alarms in the schools."
Gottheimer said he has been working with the Alhadeff family, who lived in Woodcliff Lake before moving to Parkland, on this and other measures since just shortly after the shooting happened.
On the morning of Feb. 14, 2018, Lori Alhadeff texted her daughter to run and hide and wait for help during the attack, but that help never came.
And while today's students have built active shooter drills into their educational routine, Gottheimer said, audible alarms run the risk of bringing children into harm's way without connecting a school to the crisis response urgently needed in the moment.
So the bipartisan co-sponsors of this legislation, five Republicans and five Democrats including New Jersey Reps. Andy Kim and Bill Pascrell Jr., say they believe it is a practical, common-sense measure.
"It would be, obviously, a way to do it without actually forcing people outside the classroom, where we know our students are safest," Gottheimer said. "If this could give some extra peace of mind to our students, to our faculty, our staff, this shouldn't be something that teachers have to think about either, but it is."
Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, cited in the announcement of the bill's introduction, show that fewer than a third of U.S. schools currently report having silent alarms installed with a direct connection to the authorities.
Even though Gottheimer said Congress does not always move quickly, he acknowledged that New Jersey was able to pass "Alyssa's Law" within a year of the Parkland shooting.
If the federal legislation goes through, Gottheimer expects there will be some sort of timeframe set for schools to implement the technology and give officers their necessary training.
"Frankly, there should be no reason why there's any delay here, and why we can't get this done," he said. "I just don't know who would be against this. It is not controversial. This is about just protecting our kids."
Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.