Is NJ prepared to prevent a school shooting rampage?
TRENTON — With the memory of the Parkland, Florida, shooting rampage still fresh in everyone’s mind, the New Jersey Assembly Education Committee and the state Senate Education Committee held a special joint hearing on school security on Thursday.
“The department has made secure schools a priority in its mission,” said Acting Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet.
He told members of the panel that Gov. Phil Murphy has included an extra $66 million for school safety in the proposed state budget.
“The money will allow districts to develop advance and enhance new and current security strategies.”
He noted while each local district will develop its own school security plans, “we provide guidance and support through training and resources to the school districts in order to assist their ability to identify promising practices and effective preventative strategies."
Each school security plan is developed with the help of local law enforcement agencies, emergency management, public health officials and other key stakeholders.
“These plans should address all hazards, which can range from bomb threats, fire and gas leaks to active shooter situations.”
Every New Jersey school must hold one security drill a month in coordination with emergency responders.
The Department of Education has held more than 800 unannounced active shooter drills at schools all over New Jersey to get a better idea of how prepared the districts really are.
“We get to review and assess exactly what’s going on with their practice. We talk about the things they have done right, best practices," he said.
“There’s a growing awareness around the significance of building strong, healthy, positive school cultures through social and emotional learning.”
Bob Bumpus, the assistant commissioner of field services for the DOE, said school security is paramount because “only learning can take place in a safe and secure environment, and what I mean is not only physical safety and security but emotional and psychological safety and security.”
“Our students and staff need to be in climates that promote what is known in the literature as relaxed alertness, and that’s where the brain is optimized. When our students feel safe and secure, they’re primed to learn.”
Ben Castillo, director of the DOE's Office of School Preparedness & Emergency Planning told the panel that because the state is so densely populated, police response time will be good in the event of a school emergency.
He also noted that constant drilling will "kind of desensitize the students to that type of response, and from what I’ve seen the kids are pretty resilient.”
Jared Maples, the director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said one main focus of his office is prevention, getting out ahead of issues before an attack can take place.
“You have to continually adapt and focus your mindset because if something does happen we are focused on getting the mindset right as best as we possibly can," Maples said.
The two committees will host another joint public hearing next Monday at Camden County College.
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com