Since the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14, local police have been randomly patrolling the grounds and buildings in the South Orange-Maplewood School District — accompanied by principals — according to SOMSD Director of Safety & Security Dr. Thomas Shea.
Shea made the announcement during a presentation at the March 19 Board of Education meeting where he updated the BOE on School Safety.
“Are we safe?” Shea said he is often asked.
“We are on our own until police arrive,” said Shea. He noted that schools are often seen as “soft targets” but added, “We are working to make our schools a hard target. The good news is that the statistical likelihood is 1 in 614,000,000” that a student will be a victim of a school shooting. Nonetheless, “one child is too many.”
Noting that there are an estimated 3, 750,000 AR-15s in the streets of America, Shea said that he was not “trying to scare” the community but was trying to “increase awareness of the need for security reform.”
“This is not a political discussion about gun control,” said Shea. “Even with strict new laws, what do we do about all the guns that are out there?”
Shea ran through changes that had been recently made or were in process in the district.
Shea said he was working to implement the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training program. “Currently in most schools we only lock down. That doesn’t make sense. You evacuate.” Shea said that the District will receive an 80% discount to implement ALICE training.
Shea is also working to select a communication vehicle to alert community members better. He is choosing between Alertus (which he has seen in action at Seton Hall University), Nixle, and Share 911. Shea said he tends to favor Alertus.
The district is also looking into Bearacade. Shea said that he has received a quote from Bearacade, which is a device that slides under the door and is kept in place by a pin that goes in floor. Shea said that with Bearacade, the district could put an entire school on lock down in 7 seconds. “That’s 4800 lbs of pressure on the door. You cannot even open the door if you shoot out the hinges.”
Other initiatives included expanding training for all staff (the district has a CERT team and is working on creating school CERT teams), fostering close relationships with the police (Shea is talking to Maplewood and South Orange police almost daily), and increasing monitoring and delegation of responsibility (all the schools have access to their own cameras).
With regard to the NJ School Security Task Face Recommendations, Shea said that he was proposing that no visitors walk around schools unescorted. He noted that schools were requiring Visitor ID cards for temporary staff including lunch aides and substitute teachers and would extend that to Adult School staff. In addition, CHS students will ultimately need to swipe cards in three places for entering and exiting the building.
Regarding cyber attacks, IT director Keith Bonds is continuously working on securing the schools’ internet connection.
Shea noted that Superintendent Dr. Ficarra was committed to hardening the school perimeters including “getting rid of the school portables.”
Shea said that major challengers are funding, infrastructure and complacency. He asked members of the public “stay vigilant” and not let their concern drift away after the latest school shooting.
BOE President Elizabeth Baker asked, “In terms of security planning, is there a discussion about school climate and mental health supports in terms of prevention and detecting situation that are combustible and could result in safety hazard for students and staff?”
“Yes,” said Shea, who said he spoke with Clinton Asst. Principal Tim Beaumont on implementing the Start with Hello program which identify “kids who might be isolated and fit the profile.”
From talking to Dr. Lauren Reisenauer, Director of Special Services, Shea said, “They are pretty up to date on what they are supposed to be doing. I don’t have any concerns. They address all these concerns almost immediately in terms of intervention and prevention. I’m comfortable with it.”
BOE member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad asked if officers in the schools have their weapons on them.
Shea and Sgt. Steven Davenport said that the officers have their weapons on them.
Lawson-Muhammad clarified, “There have been incidences of officers in code reds coming in with guns drawn…. We should keep that in mind about how those weapons make the students feel and have that be part of the conversation.”
“I agree,” said Shea. “I have talked about this with a couple of the principals.” He noted that in past he has been in schools as an officer and “You get a certain look until you turn and smile and say hello. Sgt. Davenport has encouraged his officers to make contact with the kids and be friendly.”
BOE member Johanna Wright asked about training. “I really have a problem with the officers in the schools.,” said Wright, although she noted that, when she was at SOMS, there was a grant to to have DARE officers — ” peace officers we called them,” said Wright —who interacted with the children and played with them after school.
Shea clarified that the officers were not stationed in buildings, but were patrolling “just as a part of routine patrol. It’s more of a security measure.”