By Dr. Larry Feinsod
When we experience a tragedy of the magnitude of yesterday’s school shooting in South Florida, there is a static in the air that drives the sorrow to your core. For school board members, administrators, teachers and parents, there is also the feeling of urgency, the need to take action to see what else we can do to safeguard our students.
In the coming weeks, we will learn more about yesterday’s tragic incident, during which 17 innocent people were murdered. (Let’s hope and pray that, with so many others hospitalized, the number won’t grow.) We are already hearing stories about the person charged with the shootings, and about heroism—the football coach who died protecting students.
We’ve been through these situations too many times before. Columbine, Sandy Hook and, now, Douglas High School immediately come to mind, but in fact, school shootings are not rare in our country. There have been seven others so far since the start of the New Year.
Ultimately, a resolution will require action that’s beyond the reach of the schoolhouse, central office or board meeting room. However, it is incumbent that boards of education and their administrations review the policies and procedures in place to ensure student health and safety.
An excellent starting point is NJSBA’s report What Makes Schools Safe. It resulted from a year-long study by the Association’s task force on school security and student safety, created following the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Four years after its release, much of the information in the report remains relevant. It provides recommendations on subjects, ranging from school security plans and emergency response procedures to prevention strategies that involve facility upgrades, school climate and education programs for students.
Other resources are the New Jersey School Security Task Force Report and Recommendations (2015) and the Report of the New Jersey SAFE Task Force on Gun Protection, Addiction, Mental Health and Families, and Education Safety (2013).
The relationship between law enforcement and the school district is an essential component to ensure student safety. New Jersey requires every school board to have a Memorandum of Agreement with its local law enforcement agency.
NJSBA’s Policy Unit is available to provide information and guidance on the school district’s relationship with law enforcement, as well as emergency and disaster preparedness, school building access, transportation safety and other topics relevant to the safety of our students.
Today, our thoughts and prayers are with the Parkland, Florida school community.
February 15, 2018