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Bill Wants Task Force to Take a Tougher Look at School Security

Measure could make school security less of a local issue in New Jersey.

School security in New Jersey is one of those issues that is typically left to local communities.

Even after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December, a task force charged by Gov. Chris Christie to look into gun safety suggested that districts may want a police presence in their schools -- but it would be up to them to decide.

Now, a new bill that passed unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature last week creates yet-another task force to look at school safety. The eight-member committee will focus on specific architectural and technological measures, exploring a host of mandates and programs for current schools and new ones.

Again, it should prove a test of how far the state can go.

Among the issues to be explored: new requirements for panic buttons and retina-scanning security, to reviews of the state’s existing mandates for monthly lockdowns, training, and other safeguards. It adds a new area of concern: prevention of cyberattacks.

The group would be led by the state commissioner of education, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and the chief executive officer of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. The bill calls for the committee’s first report within six months.

This is hardly the first task force on the issue in New Jersey. Even Christie’s review followed a report issued in 2007. And for all the recommendations of mandates or otherwise, the capacity -- and resources -- for schools to implement the recommendations remains a big question mark.

The bill calls for a review of several specific steps, including some that have already been pressed in pending legislation. The list includes:

  • placing screening systems at school entrances;

  • stationing police officers in each school building;

  • improving response times to emergency situations, such as lockdowns, active shooter, and bomb threats;

  • requiring advanced student and visitor identification cards;

  • using biometric or other advanced recognition systems;

  • Implementing authorized entrance into school buildings;

  • Panic alarms in school buildings to alert local law enforcement authorities to emergency situations;

  • Securing computer networks to prevent cyberattacks;

  • Scheduling periodic patrols of school buildings and grounds by local law enforcement officers; and

  • Hardening the school perimeter and building entrances.

In addition, the bill calls for the committee to look at existing schools and any plans for new construction, developing safety standards geared to architecture and location, including proximity to a chemical facility or nuclear power plant.

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