NJ Assembly moves school safety bills

NJ Assembly moves school safety bills

(N.J.) A proposal that would create a state aid program for security measures at private schools is on a lengthy list of student safety bills approved by the state Assembly earlier this month.

Also included in the legislative package were bids to require that certain security measures be incorporated into the design of new school buildings, and that the education department create a new school safety oversight and training division.

Many of the proposals serve as vehicles for carrying out recommendations in a report issued last summer by the School Security Task Force, created by the Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The panel was charged with studying ways to make schools safer for students and employees, and returned with 42 recommendations.

A-2689 would establish the “Secure Schools for All Children Act,” a state program in which district superintendents must meet with administrators of private schools located within the district’s boundaries “to agree upon the security services, equipment, or technology that will be provided to the students of the nonpublic school within the limits of available funds.”

Under provisions of the bill, the state, beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, will provide up to $144.42 per nonpublic school student – the amount currently given to public schools for school security. The amount will be increased each school year according to the consumer price index. If the superintendent and the chief school administrator are unable to agree on terms of providing security services and equipment, the executive county superintendent will make the final determination.

Sponsored by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers, A-2689 is one of the few school safety bills opposed by the New Jersey School Boards Association.

“NJSBA believes that A-2689 would divert already scarce public resources to private schools. Additionally, this legislation would unduly burden certain school districts with bureaucratic responsibilities simply because private schools operate within their borders,” the organization said in a statement posted to its Website.

“The superintendent of the public school district, as well as his or her support staff, is already overburdened with the duties of serving the district in which they were hired,” the statement read. “They should not have the additional burden of dealing with private schools and the associated liability thrust upon them.”

A-3348 requires that a district or local education agency incorporate certain school security measures in the architectural design of new construction, including keyless locking mechanisms, access control systems which allow for remote locking and unlocking, sufficient space for evacuation in the event of an emergency, and separating areas in the school building intended for public use from all other areas.

Districts would be required to employ “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design” principles and other school security standards that include limiting the number of doors available for access by school staff, keeping exterior doors locked, installing surveillance cameras and creating a strict key-distribution protocol.

A-3347 would establish the School Safety Specialist Academy within the New Jersey Department of Education. The academy would be designed to serve as “a repository for best practices, training standards, and compliance oversight in matters regarding school safety and security, including prevention efforts, intervention efforts, and emergency preparedness planning,” according to language in the legislation.

Under the bill, a School Safety Specialist Certification Program would be developed. Each school superintendent would be required to designate a school safety specialist, who must complete the certification program and who would then be responsible for the supervision and oversight of all school safety and security personnel, policies and procedures in the school district.

Training in the new certification program would be provided free of charge to newly-appointed school safety specialists in the areas of bullying, hazing, truancy, Internet safety, emergency planning, emergency drills, drugs, weapons, gangs and school policing, and any other areas deemed necessary by the academy.

The school safety specialist would serve as the school district liaison with local law enforcement and other agencies and organizations in matters of school safety and security.

Other school security bills now being considered in the Senate include:

A-191, which would require school buildings to be equipped with an emergency light and panic alarm that is linked to local law enforcement.

A-209, which would exclude certain increases in school security expenditures from the tax levy cap applicable to school districts.

A-2158, which would authorize the use of an emergency reserve fund or proceeds from bonds issued by the Economic Development Agency to finance school security improvements.

A-3349 would implement various recommendations of the New Jersey School Security Task Force related to school security drills. It would provide that an actual fire or school security emergency be considered a “drill” for the purposes of meeting the requirements of the state’s School Security Drill law. It would also require a law enforcement officer to be present for at least one drill each school year so he or she can make recommendations for improvements or changes. The bill would expand the definition of “school security drill” to include practice procedures for responding to a bomb threat, and it would also require that all school district employees be provided with annual training on school safety and security, rather than just once in a teacher’s career. In addition, the bill would require that annual training to be conducted collaboratively with emergency responders in order to identify weaknesses in school security policies and procedures while increasing the effectiveness of emergency responders.

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