Gifford Responds to Questions Regarding Proposed School Security Policy Changes

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Following the February 23, 2023 South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education meeting, Village Green reached out to Policy Committee Chair Bill Gifford with the following questions related to proposed changed to policies 7440 Security on School Premises and 8420 Emergency and Crisis Situations. Gifford’s responses are provided here in their entirety.

Village Green: Regarding redlining, why is 7440 not redlined and 8420 is redlined? 

Bill Gifford: The committees did look at a redlined version of the document. It should also be noted that both the policies in question 7440 & 8420 were carefully reviewed by both the Administration and our Security Director prior to coming up for first read.

Because there are so many versions of the documents floating around it looks like a non redlined version was inadvertently placed on the public agenda and we apologize for any confusion that may have caused. [Editor’s note: The non-redlined AND the redlined 7440 can now be found here, along with the redlined 8420 policy.]

VG: 7440 is not redlined but there is highlighting used. However, there are numerous changes to the policy that are not highlighted. Why is that? Are you looking at a method that will show changes without redlining? Do you have the changes listed out somewhere?

Bill Gifford: As previously stated, the wrong version of the policy was put up for public view. The version we saw had included the redlines and was reviewed by the Administration and our Security Director prior to coming up for first read.

Moving forward we will be looking at ways to improve the redlining process and we intend to look at the utilization of applications like compareDocs cloud, which would electronically redline revisions in policies. To avoid any potential technological errors, we will also provide the committees reviewing the policies with clean copies of the Board’s prior version in conjunction with the Strauss Esmay version to ensure that a comprehensive review of policy changes takes place by the Board. Reviewing both copies will ensure the Board accounts for tailored language in our policies.

VG: The redlining in 8420 appears to show that the language around mental health supports etc. is being eliminated. Is that correct? If so, can you explain?

Bill Gifford: As was stated by both Dr. Taylor and myself at the meeting, there are no procedural changes from what we are currently doing with how the District conducts drills. The District has always stated that this is a drill when the drill is occurring and the District will continue to do so. The new state law requires that the District let parents know when a drill occurred and the District has already been doing that and will continue to do so. There is also currently language in the new policy that talks about providing appropriate mental and emotional support for students. The policy states security drills include “…clear, developmentally and age-appropriate messaging to students and staff…” which are “paired with trauma-informed approaches”. It’s worth noting this new legislation was passed in January 2022 and was updated to include the best practices that our District had already adopted. SOMSD is the exemplar for both the State of NJ and nationally, and that is due to the advocacy from many parents in this community.

VG: A community member pointed out this sentence in 7440: “The Board may approve the employment of school resource officers, school security officers, and/or law enforcement officers in situations in which special risks are involved.” It appears to be new. Is that correct? Is this a change in policy?

Bill Gifford: That is new language that came from the Strauss Esmay policy and as Dr. Taylor mentioned after the second public speaks, the language used in the policy around SROs says “MAY,” that the board MAY do that and does not say that the board will do that. Our aim, however, is to maintain the district’s current stance, which keeps SROs out of our schools. There will be forthcoming changes to the policies as we make amendments prior to voting for adoption in March.

This is why we have first readings of policies, so that we can hear from the public, staff, students, and board members about their views. We greatly appreciate their feedback and the public’s engagement in the process. We then take those thoughts back to the committee to be incorporated into a second read. I’d like to remind the community that there will be forthcoming changes to the first read policy language and that we appreciate their advocacy on behalf of their students.

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