School Violence and Security
Mass shootings have sparked outrage in the past, but our members have become even more concerned following May 24 when 18-year-old Salvador Ramos fatally shot nineteen students and two teachers and wounded seventeen other people at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Voices are being raised throughout the nation to enact both state and federal laws that will protect the innocent from the threat of school violence.
New Jersey is among states with strict gun control laws. However, nationally not much has changed in many states and at the federal level during the decade since 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed twenty-six people in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
NJASA has led the way in providing information and strategies to school leaders ever since March 24, 1998, following the tragic incident in Jonesboro, Arkansas when four students and one teacher were killed, and ten others wounded. NJASA members have served on numerous taskforces regarding school safety and violence and our association has been a driving force behind legislation to meet the needs of the membership and society. NJASA has also designed and conducted various surveys to assist New Jersey’s elected representatives as they move forward in developing regulations and legislation.
The NJASA Legal Research Publication Program has published numerous Administrative Guides addressing the issues of bullying, student discipline, expulsion, harassment, internet, Megan’s Law, safety/security, and search/seizure.
NJASA has organized four conferences focusing specifically on the topic of violence and school security:
- NJASA and NJSIAA First Conference on Violence in the Public Schools April 28, 1999
- NJASA and NJSIAA Second Conference on Violence in the Public Schools May 3, 2000
- NJASA/NJASBO/NJSIAA Third Conference on Violence in the Public Schools November 27, 2001
- NJASA School Security Conference Welcomes Newtown, CT Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Janet Robinson - March 13, 2013
The above conferences had more than 1350 administrators in attendance and addressed numerous ways to help school and district leaders refine their crisis management plans; identify best practices used to prevent the occurrence of violent behavior by students; preventive measures pertaining to hazing and bullying principles; addressing diversity; and critical legal school violence.
Governor Chris Christie in January 2013, following that tragedy, authorized the New Jersey SAFE Task Force on Gun Protection, Addiction, Mental Health and Families, and Education Safety. I provided lengthy testimony before the committee outlining the security protocols and initiatives undertaken by school personnel and concluded with these nine recommendations:
- Reinforce the work of the School Security Task Force critical to the ongoing security of students.
- Examine and strengthen communication protocols already established between schools and law enforcement officials.
- Focus on technological advances that can promote communications in times of crisis.
- Establish forums and vehicles for sharing best practices in security to local law enforcement and education personnel.
- Require that school security personnel who may be armed be placed under the direct authority of the local police chief.
- Promote the establishment of a local tip line which can facilitate anonymous reporting and a prompt response to potential trouble.
- Examine ways in which community mental health services can be strengthened.
- Examine how citizens can address and mitigate the culture of violence that permeates our culture.
- Limit access to assault weapons and large capacity magazines.
Given current events, we must ask, “How much has really changed since these recommendations were made?” Despite our efforts and those of other organizations and agencies here and across the country over the decades more must be done. Members of the NJASA Executive Committee have appropriately questioned whether we have sustained the efforts to implement past recommendations, rather than sporadically address them following each tragedy. Can we and should we do more? To that end the Executive Committee has determined that a Focus Group be formed to examine the issues of school violence, the availability of weapons, school security measures, student mental health needs, and support staff levels and determine action steps for the organization and recommendations for legislators on both the state and federal level.
As this school year closes, we shall organize a cadre of members to come together and re-examine all we have done and determine what more should occur. The NJASA leadership solicits your support for this critically important effort and to demonstrate leadership within your community in support of safe schools and a supportive learning environment.
Editors Note: As of publication time: