Schepisi discusses school security at joint Education Committee hearing

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |
In Newark, school security has been an issue long before the mass shootings now dominating gun violence conversations. That’s where the state Legislature held the last of three joint hearings on the topic. Senior Correspondent David Cruz has the latest.

Cruz: Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi is a Republican member of the Assembly Education Committee and we’re outside of a joint session of the Senate and Assembly Education Committees. This is the third of these hearings, correct?

Schepisi: Yes, that’s correct.

Cruz: So you’ve heard all this testimony, have you heard anywhere where there’s common ground?

Schepisi: Absolutely, before we even started hosting these, I hosted one in my own community in Westwood where we had very divergent viewpoints. We had school teachers, we have chiefs of police, we had SROs [school resource officers], we had superintendents and there were no scripts, and that’s what’s great about these things. We hear from the people who are in the thick of it, day in and day out, and hear from them how they think we can help them improve school security.

Cruz: Always difficult, right, to take the emotion out of testimony in any discussion about this?

Schepisi: It is, I mean, it’s a very scary thing. I go in, I have a daughter who’s 14 and a son who’s 6, I am a school teacher for a day in a lot of our area schools and adding that as a level of stress when people are just trying to educate our students is huge.

Cruz: So, where do you go now? You have these hearings now, is there anything a legislature can really do to combat these issues?

Schepisi: Absolutely, and there is no cookie cutter approach, we need to be flexible. What works in Newark may not be needed in River Vale, and vice versa. One common element is funding, where is the money going to come from the upgrade our schools, and that’s universal in all of our communities. So that’s something that we really need to talk openly about as well is how do we properly protect our students and do it within budgetary constraints?

Cruz: Are you one of those people who would either arm teachers or put police in schools?

Schepisi: I don’t believe in arming our teachers. It’s one thing to learn how to shoot a gun at a range, it’s an entirely different animal to be in a high stress, combat-type situation and noy have the proper training, psychological and otherwise, to handle it. Police officers, SROs, properly trained security guards, that’s a different story, but arming teachers, no.

Cruz: You were talking about, we’re in Newark, the problems in Newark where the gun violence in the community is a lot different than say Parkland where the violence was visited upon the school. You’ve got to approach these issues totally differently.

Schepisi: Absolutely, and that’s one of the big issues in talking about this. Yes, we can harden the assets at the schools themselves, we can do metal detectors, we can do those sort of things, but what happens when the children leave the school? What happens if there’s gang violence? What happens if somebody wants to do something outside of these four walls? So, it’s a continuing discussion.

Cruz: Indeed, conversations to continue.

Schepisi: Absolutely.