Keeping children safe in the classroom is the top priority, but during a panel discussion on school safety in Neptune, law enforcement officials and educators stressed the importance of not succumbing to emotion and creating sustainable solutions that focus learning.

Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media

The forum, held at Neptune High School on Tuesday, was open to the public and featured a panel consisting of Neptune Superintendent David A. Mooij, Neptune Police Chief Bob Adams, school safety consultant and former Neptune Police Captain Mike Zagury, Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden, and Freehold Regional High School District Superintendent Charles Sampson.

Various safety protocols for the Neptune and Freehold Regional School District were discussed, including stepping up security at entrances, installation of surveillance cameras, and participating in specialized monthly drills to address everything from a school shooting to natural disaster scenario.

Sheriff Golden and Chief Adams discussed stepped up security measures such as more police presence, either through full time school resource officers or regular daily visits to schools by patrol officers, and improved and expanded training simulating emergency scenarios.

The panel comes four months after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown Connecticut, and while the tragedy might be on the mind of parents, Golden, Zagury, and other panel members point out emergency strategies have been employed and carried at schools for decades.

Zagury, who has been working with security and resource management for nearly forty years, says it’s important to remain level headed about the situation and consider sound policies.

“People are going to be bombarded with so many different ‘quick fix’ solutions, and while well meaning, my message to them was to be educated in the facts, become educated in best practices, and be educated consumers.”

One of the policies gaining popularity that Zagury is skeptical on is hiring armed security guards.

He notes Police Resource Officers are a valuable asset to school districts because they are full fledged law enforcement officials with all of the responsibility, training, and liability that comes with the badge, but often the retired police or security expert “hired guns” don’t contribute to a safer school.

“You may have retired police officers who are very well trained and very well meaning, but once they are not sworn in, The entire dynamic changes from legal, liability, and training point of view," says Zagury.

“Unless the school district wants to, they are not held to the same training standards as an active police officer.”

Strategies have to be sustainable both economically and emotionally, he noted, while pointing out many of the extreme security measures districts took weren’t practical for their community.

“When it comes to guns you have to think long range, you have to think big picture. You can’t do a knee jerk reaction of thinking ‘we’re going to get a gun at the door and everything is going to be okay.’”

Zagury highly recommended a report put together by various educator and school administration groups regarding joint recommendations for improved school safety and access.

He points out parents and students have a duty as “consumers” of the product of school safety to take a vested interest in it. He specifically noted the importance of parental involvement in coordination of an emergency plan.

“If there’s an incident, there’s going to be five hundred going to the parents and they’re going to do what parent do. Make them knowledgeable, make them part of the process because if you wait till that day and try to say there is a reunification plan, they’re going to say ‘I want my kid and I want my kid now.’”