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What Has School Security Task Force Been Doing for the Past Two Years?

One of three specially-appointed state panels that still haven’t issued reports, it is just now having its first public hearings

school security

New Jersey has no shortage of task forces focused on education these days, but questions are mounting as to exactly what they are doing.

The latest example is a school-security task force created two years ago that is just now holding public hearings.

And that panel is one of at least three separate task forces at work on education topics: the state’s testing system, its special education services, and school safety.

But so far, none have issued any reports and two of them have missed deadlines for interim reports.

The frustration is simmering. The latest example came yesterday, when state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) opened the Assembly education committee’s meeting by complaining that the school security task force was just beginning public hearings.

“Folks, this isn’t politics, this is our kids,” said Diegnan, who chairs the Assembly committee. “We all know what is going on in Paris right now, and there are solutions out there … But we’re waiting for direction.”

Diegnan said the Legislature had held back from mandating further security precautions in schools, but will move forward this winter if more wasn’t forthcoming from the Christie administration.

“If we don’t have a resolution by the end of February, I will recommend that we put a package of bills to deal with it on our own,” he said.

Afterward, Diegnan acknowledged that he can’t force action from the task force, but he hoped he could at least prod some progress.

“I just want to catch their attention,” he said. “C’mon, it’s been two years.”

This state of inactivity is hardly novel. Two other task forces appointed by Gov. Chris Christie -- one to review the state’s testing system, another to look at the contentious topic of special education -- have shown little in the way of results, at least in public.

Both task forces were charged to issue interim reports by the end of last year, but so far, nothing has been released. Nevertheless, both task forces have been meeting, and members of each say that reports are coming in the next month.

The testing task force is especially topical, as debate continues over the extent of testing in the state’s public schools and the new online exams coming this spring aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

The creation of the testing task force was a central piece of Christie’s compromise last summer, which scaled back the use of test results when evaluating teachers and schools.

Christie, in his regular “Ask the Governor” segment on 101.5 FM radio last night, said the task force would be holding hearings later this month. He acknowledged the growing protests over new testing, but didn’t back down from the administration’s intent to press ahead.

“We’re going to have a series of public hearings at the end of the month to hear from the public before they make a decision,” he said.

The governor said he has some questions about the new Common Core standards that are driving the tests -- a big national issue for a potential presidential candidate -- but he was vague to the specifics.

Still, Christie said that the assessments remain a critical component in his administration’s commitment to determining student progress. “There is going to be some type of testing, we need to gauge where students are,” he said.

The special education task force is also important to advocates; one of the issues it's looking at is how special education services are funded by the state.

The administration isn't saying much about the status of any of these groups, with the state Department of Education’s press office yesterday referring questions to the governor’s office. Requests for comment from the governor’s office were not returned.

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