School Security Upgrades
In response to the Parkland shooting and rising parent and student concern about school safety, Robbinsville township and school district have announced that there will be two additional school resource officers, along with the current officer, for the three Robbinsville schools. Each resource officer will be assigned to one of the schools, and will increase the level of security.
While the school shooting in Parkland, Florida intensified the demand for security, the township and Board of Education had already budgeted for one additional school resource officer for the 2018-2019 school year. However, “after the recent tragedy, we worked with the Mayor Fried and Police Chief Chris Nitti so that we could secure another school resource officer to have presence at each of the three buildings,” superintendent Dr. Kathie Foster and Board President Richard Young said.
These two additional officers will be joining resource officer Ed Vincent, who Foster applauds and recognizes as “a part of our school community. Kids feel comfortable with him, but he also helps maintain some presence in our schools,” Foster added.
These resource officers will serve various roles at the schools. Along with following the duties of a regular police officer, they will also teach the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program and “sometimes also help with school investigations,” Young said. “Most importantly, they are deterrents. Because if someone knows there is an armed police officer, permanently near the school, they will hopefully be less likely to engage in dangerous behavior,” he added.
While these latest changes were catalyzed by the Parkland shooting, the Robbinsville school district has been focused on school security and safety since the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. “After the Sandy Hook shooting, our district did a very thorough, top-to-bottom, school security review. We had an outside organization come in and look at all of our assets, our operations, and other programs, and they made a series of suggestions on how our school system could increase security. Most of those suggestions have been implemented over the past few years,” Young said. These safety measures included a monthly security drill for all Robbinsville schools, in which students and faculty develop safe practices against shooters or other malicious scenarios.
“We’ve been working to strengthen our school’s infrastructure and technology, as well as just build that culture of safety across schools, which requires all our personnel to pay attention to students and develop safe practices. So it’s been ongoing for many years, but when something like this happens, it’s important for all of us to come together and reflect on what are we doing well, and where can we strengthen our schools,” Foster added.
Much of this ongoing work regarding safety is discussed in the school security subcommittee of the Board of Education, which consists of administrators, board members, the police chief and the resource officer. “We met recently, and we looked at the recommendations of our principals and our leadership teams. After looking at all recommendations, we’re going to make a plan and enact what we can,” Young said. While the additional resource officers are the biggest planned security change, Foster mentioned plans for future technology and infrastructure updates to further ensure safety.
Young and Foster highlighted the role of faculty in school safety. “Teachers and our leadership is our defensive line in our schools. We have young children who rely on their teachers to keep them safe in a bad situation. We encourage teachers to be mindful and to listen. If they see or hear something that needs to be investigated, we highly encourage them to do so. Teachers are the ones who are dealing with our students each and every day, so we want them to be part of our efforts to keep our students safe,” Young said.
“I think that’s our role as all of the adults that surround them, to let them know that we are all vigilant and watching and caring for them,” Foster said. She added that staff should take note of student that have special needs and ensure that they are fulfilled.
While both clearly supported the importance of faculty in protecting students, Young noted that the Board of Education has not yet taken a formal position on President Trump’s notion of having armed teachers in schools, and that the board will wait for state and federal lawmakers to make that decision. “Our concern right now is that we have a police presence in our school, and that we engage and deploy the best technologies to help keep our children safe. We are committed to doing what we can,” Young said.
Since the Parkland shooting, there has been increasing parent concern regarding safety and security for their children. As Young noted, the February Board of Education meeting was perhaps the highest attended in the past five years. “I think there’s concern everywhere around the nation, and frankly as a parent and a board member, those concerns are valid. Schools should be safe havens and sanctuaries, we should not have to worry about a shooter or anything worse,” he said.
In response to this concern, Young has encouraged parents, and all community members, to follow the ‘See Something, Say Something’ national campaign. “Parents and students are often the first line of defense, and social media has been an indicator for what’s to come. So we’re asking students and parents, if they see something on social media, to let us know. No threat is taken lightly. Very soon, we will also have a way for people to report anonymously,” Young said.
“Most importantly, we implore people to take action, to listen to their children’s conversations, to talk to other parents and students about what’s going on, and if they see any suspicious behavior, then let us know. We have zero tolerance for not doing the right thing in this area,” he continued.
“It’s really about the relationships we build with our students to let them know that we are watching out for them,” Foster added.
Along with rising parent concern, students at Robbinsville and across the country have begun to mobilize and act on the issue of gun violence and safety. A key part of this movement was the March 14th National School Walkout, in which students in schools and colleges across the country, including Robbinsville, walked out and protested in silence for 17 minutes to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting.
Regarding this protest, Foster supported the motives of the students and detailed how faculty helped enhance student efforts. “One of our missions is that we are educating our students to become active and productive citizens, and a part of that participatory piece of citizenship is understanding how we can activate our voice. We support our students in this venture, but what we’re doing is working closely with our students to ensure that there is a safe space for them for conduct the walkout,” Foster said.
At Robbinsville High School, Principal Molly Avery worked with the township police and student leadership to plan the event so that students can peacefully assemble. At Pond Road Middle School, Principal Paul Gizzo also worked with students and staff to organize the walkout. Furthermore, social studies classes had discussions about what it means to be a citizen, so that even students that did not wish to participate in the walkout had some learning experience from the event.
While the school district hopes to ensure safety from malicious actors, they do not want that to take away from their focus on diversity of ideas. “We live in a diverse state and down, and our schools should provide a holistic environment of nurtured learning that supports this diversity. We want to maintain a culture that’s open to opinions, and learn to accept those around us, whether we feel they’re right or wrong. As Americans, that’s the foundation of who we are,” Young said.
Overall, Young and Foster stressed that “school security is our number one priority. The district has been very aggressive over the past few years, implementing many enhancements. Most of the things we do not talk about publicly, because we do not want bad actors to know what we are doing. But we hope that the public can understand that, since Sandy Hook and now, as a result of the shooting in Florida, we are doubling down and are fully committed to doing what will keep our children and staff safe,” Young said.
“This is the busiest that we’ve ever been in dealing with this issue. Many of us on the board have or have had children in the township, and we’re on the board because we want to do what’s right for our children, the staff, and our community. Hands down, the number one priority is maintaining safety. We hope that parents understand that our district takes nothing for granted. This is a top priority for parents and students, and it’s a top priority for the board and administration,” he added.
“We remain committed to protecting students and family. As we learn how to navigate this new world, we have to be vigilant in protecting our students,” Foster concluded.
To read the township press release, please visit: http://www.robbinsville.k12.nj.us/r_b_o_e/school_security/march_1__2018_township_press_release/
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