New Task Force Wants to Help Schools Evaluate Security Options
State's school boards association surveys some 600 school districts on policies in place to protect students, educators, and staff
Now, the state’s school boards association wants to start tracking the changes, creating its own task force to survey districts across New Jersey and develop policies and strategies that they can adopt.
The New Jersey School Boards Association’s group adds to an issue that has seen more than its share of recent task forces -- including a new one awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s signature.
The state Department of Education also continues to hold presentations and workshops across the state to provide more information on the various practices and polices already in place.
The Christie administration has said it already has some of the strictest school security measures in the nation, including requirements for regular drills and planning.
But the school board association’s work is the first since the Newtown, CT, school shootings that will try to compile a record of what New Jersey’s nearly 600 districts are doing beyond the requirements of the law, giving schools some sense of whether they are acting in isolation or in concert.
“There are a lot of gaps in the information that is available,” said Raymond Wiss, co-chairman of the group and former president of the statewide association.
“Look at the issue of police in schools,” he said. “There are certainly a lot of differences of opinion on that. Our job is not to recommend what is the best fit for a district, but to assemble the options.”
The 11-member task force has circulated itsto school board presidents and secretaries in every district and charter school, with the aim developing a white paper on policies and strategies by October.
The report would come out while the state is expected to have yet anotherat work, under a law passed by the Assembly and Senate this spring. The state task force would also explore these various options, as well as the costs incurred.
Christie has yet to sign the law, after his own task force on gun safety recommended that school security issues mostly be left to local districts to decide. The governor has until the Assembly is next convened to sign or veto the bill.
Wiss said he hopes his task force will work to complement the state’s work, but with some different emphases. For one, the school board’s survey is bringing in an issue that might not always be associated with security: anti-bullying.
The survey includes questions on the extent of the school’s anti-bullying efforts under the new state law, with the recognition that bullying is an aspect of a school's social and academic climate.
“I do think there is a nexus there,” Wiss said. “If a school is promoting a climate where bullying is prevalent, there is a potential for violence.”
But he said that is just one area of study, with questions and the group’s own studies about school security hardware, communications systems, and law enforcement. The group has already met with top experts in school psychology, and another meeting was held with a school architect. A police chief and school resource officer are next to come before the group, Wiss said.
“Newtown caused the law enforcement and the school communities to reassess the practices they have been using and the value of those practices,” Wiss said.
“What we’re doing isn’t meant to be in the form of mandates for districts, but a way to gather best practices and let districts decide what is best for them,” he said.