After a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Friday, killing 20 children and six staff members, school security is on the minds of many throughout the country. New Jersey School Boards Association Executive Director Dr. Lawrence Feinsod told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he has heard from school board members and superintendents who are reassessing their school security measures in light of the tragedy.
“I think Dec. 14 was a game changer,” Feinsod said. “People are thinking of school security in a whole different way.” He explained that while it might be impossible to make schools impenetrable to such an attack, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood.
“One of the ideas that several individuals mentioned to me today is to increase the school resource officers,” Feinsod said. “As you know, these are off-duty and sometimes on-duty police officers, all of whom are armed.”
Feinsod said he would like to see more school resource officers in schools because they are armed, trained and understand the school environment. He said when he served as superintendent in Madison, there was a resource officer who became a confidant to the students and staff as well as serving a security purpose. According to Feinsod, schools with such officers are in the minority in New Jersey. He said the reason can be attributed to a manpower shortage and fiscal constraints.
When the idea of school security began, it was mainly in urban areas, but most mass shootings occur outside of urban centers. Feinsod said he read an FBI report that was a year or two old that “cited the fact that we have not had a mass shooting in any urban center per se in America, that most of the shootings, if not all, were indeed in middle to upper middle class communities.”
In addition to increasing security at and around school buildings, education officials are also looking to strengthen mental health services for students. Officials have said the Newtown shooter suffered from mental illness.
“I spoke to two board members today who talked to me about advancing the child study team, enhancing counseling and psychological services. And I think when we look at the program from a holistic standpoint, we have to look at the root causes, which is certainly something our entire society has to take into consideration and we have to address the needs of mentally disturbed individuals,” Feinsod said. “As you well know, Mike, unfortunately most states and communities have taken dollars away from this critical area.”