On the day of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, I felt sadness and rage and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Not again!” I thought, recalling Sandy Hook and Columbine.
Your Association’s officers felt the need to do more than express sympathy for those affected by these tragic events. We wanted to take action.
We had long discussions about the topic, and with the support of Dr. Larry Feinsod and the staff, have developed a proposed policy statement that we will ask the NJSBA Board of Directors to submit to the May 19th Delegate Assembly. The statement reads:
“The NJSBA believes that ensuring the safety of our students requires meaningful and uniform laws governing access to firearms including stringent background checks through the nation; inter-agency collaboration to ensure the effective delivery of mental health services and early intervention strategies; and state and federal financial support for security enhancements at the local school district level.”
If approved, the policy would enable NJSBA to weigh in on critical matters related to school security, such as access to firearms and mental health services.
I think everyone would agree that government policy in these areas has an impact on the health and well-being of our students and the climate of our schools. I believe we have an obligation to address these issues.
Since Feb. 14, several school boards have reached out to NJSBA for help in drafting their own resolutions on violence prevention and mental health services. As a service to our members, we have developed a sample resolution, which several boards have adopted. The sample can be accessed at staging.njsba.org under the “NEWS” heading.
NJSBA has also been proactive in addressing this topic in training sessions. Although our county school boards association leaders plan their meeting agendas months in advance, they also pride themselves on their flexibility. Several have changed the topics for upcoming meetings to address school security concerns, inviting law enforcement and school administrators to speak.
NJSBA’s comprehensive 2014 report from its School Security Task Force, “What Makes Schools Safe?” continues to be a valuable resource for policymakers and school officials. Recently, I attended a community panel discussion on the topic of school safety, and was gratified to see the moderator, a retired New York City police detective, using our report as a reference. To ensure the report’s continued relevancy, Dr. Feinsod and I have appointed a task force that will review the document and make necessary updates.
I am impressed by the students, who are speaking out, thoughtfully and articulately, about school safety. New Jersey’s great public schools have used this opportunity as a teachable moment. Having grown up in the 1960’s I understand how students can influence our government to effect positive change. March 14 was a very important day; let’s build on the momentum that has begun. I applaud our students and indeed, our community’s civic-mindedness, and expect that we will hear more from them in the future.
It is going to take the help of our students, our school board members, school administrators, parents, teachers, lawmakers and all of our citizens to prevent another Parkland, so that we don’t experience the “not again” sorrow we felt last month. The time to begin that effort is now.