A state task force on school security issued a final report Thursday that recommends more police presence, the creation of a school safety academy, and a requirement that all staff and students carry identification, among other measures.
The task force was created two years ago as state officials and educators sought ways to improve safety after the school shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn. in which 20 children and six adults were killed. The group, which included leaders in education and law enforcement, made 42 recommendations in the report.
The report calls for New Jersey to create and fund a “school safety specialist academy” to centralize information, resources and training in one place. The academy would oversee school compliance with safety rules and regulations and conduct a certification program.
For school security staff, the report recommends hiring school resource officers, sworn police officers assigned exclusively to schools, though the high cost of this approach was noted in the report. Schools that use non-police security guards should develop agreements with local law enforcement on qualifications, communications, chain of command and responsibilities, the report states.
The task force calls for more police patrols on school grounds, especially at busy times like the start of the school day, dismissal and at activities and events. Police should also be invited to talk about topics like bullying, “sexting” and school violence in an effort to build trust and cooperation with the community.
The report also urges that the state should require students and staff to carry identification cards in a visible place when school is in session, the task force concluded. It also calls for the state to require school security to have two-way radios in schools with a dedicated channel to talk directly to emergency responders.
The report also recommends practices that are already in place at many schools, such as limiting the number of doors that can be entered; monitoring and staffing entrances; and installing surveillance cameras outside as a deterrent.
Physical improvements like installing cameras and placing metal detectors at school entrances can be expensive and time-consuming in a time when school budgets are tight. Decisions to use those should be left to the school district, the task force wrote.
The report raised questions about the effectiveness of panic alarms that silently and electronically notify police of problems. Gov. Christie vetoed legislation last year that would have required every public school in the state to install panic alarms
An emergency could unfold in a place that isn’t near a panic button, while phone-based panic buttons are at risk of false alarms, the task force wrote.
Education Commissioner David Hespe and Christopher Rodriguez, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, chaired the task force.