(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gilbert “Whip” L. Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester), Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) and Connie Wagner (D-Bergen) to create a task force charged with making recommendations to improve security and makes schools safer was approved Thursday by the General Assembly.
“The Newtown shooting showed us that evil can strike anywhere, even in a school filled with small, defenseless children,” said Wilson. “This bill helps ensure a safe and secure learning environment for students and staff members by creating a special task force charged with developing strategies that will help address school safety issues and hopefully prevent another senseless tragedy.”
“It is heartbreaking that parents must now worry about the possibility of a violent attack when they send their children off to school,” said Johnson. “The Newtown shooting made it terrifyingly clear that a deranged individual has no limits. Identifying security flaws and implementing proven security measures to make our schools safer must be part of any effort to curb gun violence.”
“We send our children to school with the expectation that they will be safe. What transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary School was horrific. Several of the mass shootings in this country have taken place in school settings,” said Wagner. “We must ensure our schools are equipped with the proper safety precautions to help prevent and minimize potential safety threats against students and staff.”
The bill is part of the Assembly Democratic gun violence prevention package.
The bill (A3583-1613) establishes a 15-member School Security Task Force to study and develop recommendations for improving school security and safety, and ensuring a safe learning environment for students and school employees. The task force is to be comprised of: the Commissioner of Education; the Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness; the Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority; two members of the Senate and two members of the General Assembly; four members appointed by the Governor, including a representative of the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials; a representative of the New Jersey Education Association; a representative of the New Jersey School Boards Association; a representative of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; and four members of the public, two appointed by the Governor, one appointed by the Senate president, and one appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly. The four public members must have demonstrated expertise in the development or implementation of school security standards or technology.
The task force is charged with identifying physical and cyber vulnerabilities and potential breaches of security in the public schools, and making appropriate recommendations to improve school security. The task force will study issues including, but not limited to:
- placing screening systems at school entrances;
- stationing police officers in each school building;
- improving response times to emergency situations including lockdowns, active shooter, and bomb threats;
- requiring advanced student and visitor identification cards;
- using biometric, retina, or other advanced recognition systems for authorized entrance into school buildings;
- installing panic alarms in school buildings to alert local law enforcement authorities to emergency situations;
- securing computer networks to prevent cyber attacks;
- scheduling periodic patrols of school buildings and grounds by local law enforcement officers; and
- hardening the school perimeter and building entryways.
The task force will also examine building security and assessment standards for existing school facilities and new construction. In developing its recommendations, the task force would have to consider effective strategies that have been employed in other states; refer to and incorporate existing state research, data, recommendations and standards and solicit public input. The task force is required to issue a final report to the governor, the Legislature, and the State Board of Education within six months of its organizational meeting. The report is to contain its findings and determinations, including any recommendations for legislation or regulations that it deems appropriate. The bill would take effect immediately and the task force would expire upon the issuance of the task force final report.
The bill was approved 77-0 by the Assembly and now awaits further consideration by the Senate.