Protecting the children of our communities is a sacred obligation and honor which rests upon the shoulders of superintendents and administrators. The families of our communities place their trust and their faith in educators to inspire, motivate, edify and love their precious children. Ensuring that those children return home safely at the end of the day is of paramount importance. Too frequently over the past twenty years, we have been witness to the horrific realities of our postmodern culture.
During the summer of 2013, the realities of that responsibility weighed heavily upon me as I was named superintendent at High Point Regional High School. Located in Wantage, in Sussex County, High Point is a special place; we have an exceptional student body with a culture built upon mutual dignity and respect. While our community is bucolic and rural, it is also 9 miles from the closest New Jersey State Police (NJSP) barracks, in Augusta. Without local police coverage, the response time for the NJSP to reach High Point in an emergency became a grave concern.
As a district, we have implemented copious security measures to ensure the safe operations of our facilities. We have a camera and security system which provides a constant view of our entire building and campus; we have a NJSP officer in our building on an intermittent part-time basis; we have installed two-way door locks, so teachers can more quickly lock their classroom doors, in the event of an emergency; we have protective shades in classrooms; we have restricted access outside doors which require identification to enter, and other security measures. Concerns of the safety of our children and our staff remained, however.
Discussions began about how best to protect the children of our community and our staff. We investigated the possibility of allowing district employed retired law enforcement professionals to carry concealed weapons. We understood the controversial nature of such a consideration; however, the safety of our students and our staff were more important to us, than the political narrative about gun violence. This was the genesis of our decision to implement a policy and procedures to protect our children.
We needed to make sure, that if this was our direction, it would be done in an orderly and appropriate manner. It was first necessary to ensure the support of our Board of Education – the Board President, Paul Derin, was a seminal player throughout the process. We then needed to ensure that our insurance carrier would support such a plan; it was necessary to have a written policy which would be supported by our Board attorney; and we needed to develop specific and clear procedures by which to proceed with our vision.
At our June 2014 meeting, our Board of Education voted to approve the first written policy in the state of New Jersey which would allow district employed School Resource Officers (SROs) to carry a concealed weapon. The procedures which we have employed are very specific – no one, but the SRO, will be permitted to carry a concealed weapon on campus. No weapon will remain in the building overnight, or while the SRO is not in the building. We have purchased a safe for the purpose of storing ammunition or for the storing of a weapon, if the SRO is engaged with children in a classroom. We have also hired two SROs so as to have full coverage throughout the school day.
Although, the SROs are retired law enforcement, they must first be considered as educators – that is their purpose at High Point – to serve as student advocates. Each SRO employed by the district will follow the specific procedures outlined during the summer of 2014. These include the submission of the following documents and certifications: carry application, retired law enforcement officer semi-annual qualification firearms training record, law enforcement issued photo identification and handgun carry permit, state-sponsored SRO training, and bi-annual active shooter training.
Our vision is being implemented as the 2014-15 school year commences. We remained passionate and persistent throughout the process. We believe that we have implemented a policy and procedures which will allow us to send our children home to their families at the end of every school day – that is our sacred duty. Our proactive approach to school safety is indicative of our love for our community.
Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions about our policy and procedures.
Scott D. Ripley
Superintendent, High Point Regional
299 Pidgeon Hill Rd., Wantage, NJ, 07461