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NJ Forum Addresses School Safety After Newtown

Law enforcement, educators met Friday

School is about teaching more than English, math and science.

“What we do today and what we do after today honors the children of Newtown, but more importantly it honors the children in our schools today,” said Dr. Maurice Elias, director of clinical training at the Rutgers University Department of Psychology, a nationally recognized expert in community and preventive psychology and school intervention.

Elias was the keynote speaker at a New Jersey School Boards Association forum, Safe and Secure Schools: Perspectives after Newtown,” at The College of New Jersey on Friday morning. Hundreds of parents, educators, school board members and law enforcement attended to discuss school safety and security.

“The data are speaking to us very clearly that the climate of the school is part of the overall package of creating a safe environment for our schools,” Elias said. “School climate assessment should be just as important as academic assessment. It is probably more important from a public health point of view.”

It’s not about armed guns or metal detectors. It’s about character development. And parents are not solely responsible for that.

“Just as you would not expect parents to be the science teachers of our kids, you can not expect parents to be the sole character builders of our kids. It’s a community responsibility,” Elias said.

When it comes to implementing changes or specific security measures make sure it’s not a knee jerk reaction, police and New Jersey Department of Education representatives say.

South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka said his department focuses on school drills, a visible police presence and constant communication between police and the schools, parents and community.

What about putting armed security guards in schools?

“I am not in favor of this plan at all,” Hayducka said, saying security guards and retired police officers typically don’t have up-to-date training, police powers or access to police procedures.

“My feeling is armed security will present a false sense of security,” he said.

In Burlington Township Public Schools, Chief Education Director Dr. Christopher Manno said he and his local police director formed a task force eight years ago to help address community discomfort about police in schools.

The group, now known as the Emergency Preparedness Task Force, includes representatives from police, fire, ems, board of education, security experts, risk management and the muncipal governing body. It meets three times a year.

“Our mantra is ‘If we shake hands before the incident, we will not point fingers after the incident,’” Manno said. Working together, the task’s force’s efforts have made community members feel more comfortable when they see police or police cruisers in and around local schools. “Our belief is that school security and safety cannot be completed by simply installing cameras, locks and security systems. The foundation of strong security is a relationship that makes school security everyone’s priority.”

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