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Panel offers 42 recommendations to improve safety in New Jersey schools

By Steve Bittenbender

A task force of educational and other state leaders charged with looking at improving school safety in New Jersey have recommended The Garden State require students, faculty and staff wear identification cards and offer a training academy to staff designated as safety specialists within their districts.

Those were just two of the 42 recommendations the 11-member committee made in a report released this month. The New Jersey School Safety Task Force was established in August 2013 as the result of legislation passed by lawmakers requiring the group to evaluate such issues as school design, screening systems and staff training.

It was co-chaired by the state’s Commissioner of Education David Hespe and Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Christopher Rodriguez. The group met nine times from October 2014 to February to discuss issues and review work performed by other committees within New Jersey and elsewhere in the country. The members also toured school buildings in New Jersey and Newtown, Conn. as part of their work.

“New Jersey has always taken an active role in developing and implementing programs designed to protect our students,” Hespe said in a news release. “This task force worked hard to build upon this tradition of success. Their report will serve as an important guide in our continuing work to ensure that our schools are safe learning environments for all children.”

In making its recommendation for identification badges, the task force said the badges, which would contain a photograph, should be “clearly visible at all times” while school is in session. They also encouraged the schools that have enhanced ID cards to ensure they have processes in place to either confiscate cards from terminated staff or expelled students or immediately suspend their access to facilities.

The costs of those cards can vary, from $1 per student for a basic card to up to $15 for a card with a computer chip inside. The task force did say that using the more advanced cards to enter buildings may hinder students when they arrive for the start of the school day.

That’s also why the Task Force recommended against using biometric means for access control. “The short burst of mass entry at schools, privacy issues, and cost make biometrics an ill-suited application at this time,” the report stated.

The task force also encouraged schools to find ways to improve response times for such events as active shooter events, bomb threats and lockdowns. Those recommendations included suggesting require training for all school personnel and to identify students at risk for violent behavior and devoting the resources necessary to proactively stop outbursts.

Another recommendation included the establishment of a “school safety specialist academy,” which would serve as a resource for schools so they can have their specialists earn certification and receive training on the best practices for securing schools. About 20 other states currently have such academies, the report said.

Communication is key to school safety, the task force said, and the panel advised the state to require two-way radios for schools that would give them a dedicated channel to first responders in the event of an emergency. Schools also should have multiple means of communicating with parents and guardians, such as text messaging and email blast capabilities.

“While considering different modes of notification, schools should also account for other communication barriers, such as foreign languages and the hearing impaired,” the report stated.

For a copy of the full report, go to: http://www.state.nj.us/education/schools/security/TaskForceReport.pdf


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