NJ Schools Can’t Keep Students as Safe as They’d Like
Many schools in New Jersey want to be safer than they actually are.
School administrators suggest the Garden State is out of touch with its approach to promoting the security of students, in terms of both policy and finances.
"Our current existence is sort of leaving it up to 600 different districts to figure out their way to best do it," said Charles Sampson, superintendent of the Freehold Regional High School District.
Sampson, co-chair of the School Safety and Security Committee within the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, made his comments Thursday during an appearance before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools.
Sampson and Colts Neck Township Schools Superintendent MaryJane Garibay used the legislative hearing to present their findings from a 2023 survey by the Committee. Their report surveyed hundreds of school administrators across the state, regarding what type of security measures school districts had invested in, and why.
Funding security measures in school
"At the end of the day, your purse is only so so big," Garibay said.
In the survey, nearly 20% of districts indicated that they had no security personnel — armed or unarmed — present at schools. The main reason: they can't afford it.
Sampson noted that security funding handed down to schools averages out to about $91 per student.
"In my district, that doesn't even cover half the cost of the staff alone for security, let alone the infrastructure needs," Sampson said. "I'm cutting English teachers, math teachers, things like that, to add additional security."
Nearly all districts indicated that they have security cameras running at schools, and 90% said they have panic buttons or remote lockdown mechanisms in place. But fewer than half have bulletproof windows or upgraded locks for individual classrooms, the survey finds.
Many of these purchases, administrators added, aren't one-time expenses; features such as shatterproof glass and security cameras have a shelf life.
Threat to NJ schools
According to Sampson, New Jersey schools have been lucky — so far — in terms of real danger. But it's a matter of when, not if, a tragedy strikes.
"In the past week alone, I've had two false gun threats ... and I had a student pull a knife on another student," he said.
NJASA's deep dive into the issue of school security was prompted by the May 2022 shooting that claimed the lives of 19 students and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
"Every time this happens and a child is harmed or killed in a space that's supposed to be safe, nurturing ... it's saddening, it's frustrating, and you feel an empowerment that you want to do something, without really knowing what to do because you feel like you're doing everything possible," Garibay said.
Their report calls for an update to New Jersey's "dated" school security task force report from 2015, as well as legislative support for school safety infrastructure needs.
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Gallery Credit: Erin Vogt
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