By Lauren Wanko
Schools in New Jersey took a hard look at how to upgrade their security. Middletown Township Public Schools created a whole new position this year. Former Police Lt. John Maguire now supervises security for the entire district.
“Middletown Township — both in the police department and the school system — has always been, I’d like to say, ahead of the curve when it came to school security,” Maguire said. “The tragedy in Sandy Hook was obviously a catalyst for moving this particular position forward.”
Maguire will monitor security operations at Middletown’s 17 schools, coordinate with the police department and implement training programs. This month, the district’s scheduled security presentations for staffers, students and parents.
“We have a school safety committee, which has a staff member from each one of our 17 schools as well as a parent from each one of those schools and the police department and the school administration meet and discuss the initiatives,” Superintendent Dr. William George said.
Schools are required by the state to conduct two drills a month — a fire drill and an emergency drill — like a live shooter scenario in West Orange where local officials from several districts responded along with federal and state agencies. George says his district continues to coordinate even more drills throughout the school year.
“We see our security and safety plan as a continual working document so we’re constantly reviewing it and making changes,” George said.
This past summer, the Middletown Township Police Department conducted an inter-agency planning meeting with the state police, FBI, school district and other officials to coordinate a response to emergency situations.
Middletown isn’t the only district to implement new security measures. In Marlboro, two armed officers — currently on the force — have been patrolling the district’s schools.
No unannounced visits are allowed in the Bayonne Public Schools. The district says if students forget their lunch they’ll provide for them. Summit School District also adopted the no unannounced visits policy and says more security measures are in the works.
Manasquan and Edison districts are among 13 schools to have panic buttons installed. Edison School District added a new camera surveillance system. Old Bridge School District is also adding new cameras to elementary schools.
In Newark, 10 more police officers will be assigned to the high schools. That’s in addition to the 13 other officers already assigned throughout the district.
Middletown Township Police Chief Robert Oches says student awareness is also crucial to their security plan.
“We want them to feel safe on a day-in-day-out basis. If something negative is gonna happen, we want them to have a learned response so they don’t get in anybody’s way from our officers responding to the threat,” Oches explained.
School districts’ security measures may vary slightly throughout the state, but administrators say the goal is the same — to keep the Garden State’s students and staffers safe.