Caride, Jimenez & McKnight Bill to Make It Illegal to Tamper With or Disconnect School Emergency Alarms Clears Assembly

Bill Prompted By Incident At South Hackensack Memorial School, Where Teacher Disconnected Loudspeaker In Third-Grade Classroom Causing Students To Miss Bomb Drill

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Marlene Caride, Angelica Jimenez and Angela McKnight to make it illegal to tamper with or disconnect alarms in classrooms was approved Thursday by the General Assembly.

The bill is in response to an incident involving an elementary school teacher in the South Hackensack School District who disconnected the loudspeaker in his classroom. As a result, the teacher and his class missed the alert during a bomb drill and did not exit the building.

“These alarms serve a real and important purpose. They can help save lives during an emergency. Tampering with or disconnecting an alarm or loudspeaker puts students, staff and first responders in danger and should not be treated lightly,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic), chair of the Assembly Education Committee. “This can help prevent such behavior in the future by making it illegal and costly to pull such a reckless, potentially dangerous stunt.”

Under the bill (A-4983), an employee of a public or nonpublic school who knowingly damages, disconnects, tampers or interferes with the operation of a public or nonpublic school loudspeaker, alarm or other emergency warning device or system would be liable for a civil penalty of $1,000 for each offense. The bill’s provisions do not apply to an approved maintenance or repair of a device or system and do not preclude the application of any other civil, administrative or criminal remedy that may be available under any other provision of law.

“Having a means of notifying everyone during an emergency is a crucial part of keeping New Jersey’s schools safe for all students and employees,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). “Disconnecting the warning device puts people in danger, and there should be a penalty to deter such behavior.”

“There’s simply no excuse for tampering with a system that is in place to protect people in a school building,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Putting children in harm’s way like this cannot be tolerated.”

“Luckily, the incident at South Hackensack Memorial School was just a drill, and the students and the teacher were not hurt, but what if the threat had been real?” asked Caride. “The inconvenience of having to listen to an alarm is miniscule compared to the graveness of having students and teachers unaware of an emergency that requires immediate evacuation.”

The bill would take effect immediately. It now awaits Senate consideration.