In the aftermath of the murders of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, New Jersey legislators are proposing bills focused on school safety and districts are taking steps to protect their communities. Here’s a round-up:
*Senator Declan O’Scanlon introduced five bills to “further safeguard all students in this state, no matter what school they attend.” The bills are:
*Senator Anthony M. Bucco proposed a bill to “train law enforcement officers, mental health professionals, teachers and other school staff, and students to identify and report behaviors that signal potential threats to school safety.”
*Congressman Jeff Van Drew proposed a bill that would not allow for any school to have unlocked doors for entry into the building. In addition, it would require at least one armed officer be on school grounds at all times and would require that these SROs complete specialized training each year.
*Gov. Murphy renewed his pledge to pass a gun safety package. “I ask the Legislature to immediately put up every bill seeking to unravel our gun laws, too. Let’s make every legislator show whose side they have chosen to be on – the people of New Jersey’s or the gun lobby’s,” said Murphy during a news conference on Wednesday. The latest bill package backed by Murphy includes measures to require gun owners to lock up their firearms and to raise the minimum age to purchase shotguns and rifles in New Jersey from 18 to 21 years old.
*NJ Attorney General Matt Platkin ordered an increased law enforcement presence at schools, “with Gov. Phil Murphy’s explicit support:
*Middletown Board of Education voted to place armed retired police officers in every one of its 16 school buildings through at least the end of the 2022-23 academic year.
*East Brunswick Superintendent Victor Valeski said, “we have spent years building our armed school security team, all who are retired law enforcement personnel and some with specialized training. They are augmented by physical barriers as you enter each school, video surveillance and security software.” (For counterpoint, Joe Johnson, policy counsel for ACLU of New Jersey, argued that placing police in schools primarily hurts students of color and those with disabilities.)
*The Ocean County Board of Commissioners plans to “harden” security at its 114 public school buildings. Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer and acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey each announced a heightened law enforcement presence at all schools in their respective jurisdictions.
*South Orange-Maplewood Superintendent Ronald Taylor wrote to parents, “As a District, we want to assure families that the safety and security of our students and school facilities is always our top priority. We continue to work in partnership with our Board of Education and local police departments to improve our safety practices and protocols. Below is a list of resources that may help aid you in how to speak and support children in the aftermath of school violence.”
*Wayne Superintendent Mark Toback said, “I wanted to share that the Wayne Board of Education, Wayne Police Department, and Wayne Township are all working together on some meaningful solutions to the concerns so many of you have expressed. The primary goal of this collaboration is to substantially build on the existing system of School Resource Officers and Class III Special Officers in our schools. More details will be shared in the future.”
*Asbury Park Superintendent Rashawn Adams posted a three-minute video on Instagram “advising parents that there would be an additional police presence at local schools, but also stressing the district’s ongoing policies that include armed school resource police officers in each building, emergency drills and staff training, as well as strict requirements for visitors.”
*Long Branch and Toms River expanded its police presence and notified residents that “grief counselors are available for our students, parents, staff and community.”
*Union City Superintendent Scott Taylor sent a letter to parents saying that students “need social, emotional, and psychological support as much as anything else if they are going to develop to be mentally healthy, strong adults.”
*Barnegat Police Chief Keith Germain wrote on Facebook, “of course we’ll be there at the school today when your child arrives. We’ll be walking through the schools at random times throughout the day, and we’ll be there at dismissal. But what we want you to know is that these aren’t things we just do today, or for a few days, or for the month.”
*Two hundred Ridgewood High School students staged a walk-out to protest gun violence. “I’m frustrated, I’m scared, I’m anxious,” said senior Olivia Hayes. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, and you don’t know if you need to be worried for your life, or if you’re safe in the school. And I think that’s really scary, because our school district can’t fix a problem like that.” Hundreds of students at Collingswood High School walked out of class for 21 minutes of silence — “one minute for each of the 19 students and two teachers killed by a gunman in Uvalde, Texas.”
NJEA’s officers President Sean M. Spiller, Vice President Steve Beatty, and Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson issued this statement:
We also join millions of Americans across this country in calling for strong measures to better protect our children and our communities from this preventable epidemic of gun violence. To those who say it is ‘too soon’ to call for action, we say only that it is too late for the victims in Uvalde, but not too late to protect other children across America from similar tragedies in the future. Our children—and all Americans—deserve to be safe in school, at home and wherever else they go. Our nation owes it to them to ensure their safety.
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