For the New York Giants’ Victor Cruz, the most difficult day of the past week was not his team’s loss at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, but a visit to the family of Jack Pinto, the six-year-old Giants fan who was among the 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14. Here, a wide receiver, who is used to being pursued and tackled by cornerbacks and safeties, had to fight back tears as he recounted the visit to reporters.
For Cruz, like the rest of us, the tragedy is still overwhelming. It’s too hard to put the tragedy aside, and it’s too difficult not to ponder the “what if’s”: What if the firearms weren’t accessible to the killer? What if he had received effective mental health intervention? What if a resource officer was present at the school?
We don’t know the answers, or even if the questions are the right ones to ask.
For the education community, a school shooting is a personal tragedy and this one, in which six- and seven-year-olds lost their lives, simply breaks our hearts.
Still we must act. School safety and security measures must be in place, reviewed and, if possible, improved. In my last “Reflections” column, I announced that NJSBA will conduct a forum on school security in January.
The program, Safe and Secure Schools: Perspectives after Newtown, will take place January 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon. Speakers will include Dr. Maurice Elias, a nationally recognized expert on mental health. We have also invited school safety experts from the state’s Attorney General’s office, the New Jersey State Department of Education and the state association of chiefs of police, as well as officials of school districts that have successfully met security crises.
The event will take place at a central location in Mercer County; the exact meeting site will be announced shortly. However, registration for the free program is now open. We urge you and members of your staff and community—especially parents—to attend the event.
Looking forward, accurate information on school security will be critical. So will the resources to make necessary security improvements. The school budget development process is now upon us. And while NJSBA will advocate for state and federal funding, we also know that local school boards’ budgeting discretion has been restricted by the 2 percent tax levy cap. That restraint could prevent school districts from implementing needed school safety measures.
Therefore, as the Governor and Legislature develop New Jersey’s 2013-2014 state budget, perhaps we should explore the possibility of an exception to the tax levy cap for school security expenditures, whether they be the purchase of equipment, the hiring of resource officers or facility improvements.
I hope you will be able to attend the January 18 program and will join us as we endeavor to protect our children.
These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].