LIVINGSTON, NJ - With the recent school shootings in California and Connecticut and the increasing enrollment in the Livingston schools, school security and facilities upgrades were front and center at Wednesday night’s Livingston Board of Education meeting.
Superintendent Dr. Brad Draeger gave a lengthy presentation on the need to increase the capacity of the schools to handle more students in the near future. He said the buildings are becoming overcrowded and at best, there is one available classroom per school.
Draeger said elementary school construction and LHS ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance are under consideration and referenda would accompany them. Additionally, Draeger and the board members expressed concern about the increasing amount of special educations students being bused out of the district to other schools. Draeger said while they want these students to remain in Livingston, it is not feasible unless classrooms at the schools are added. Transportation for these children is also quite costly, he said.
The superintendent said it is the ideal time for construction to take place because interest rates are low, the district’s construction is often quick and not too expensive and if Livingston waits longer it could become pricey. While some residents may say no because their taxes will increase, the changes will ultimately help the students, Draeger said. The estimated costs are $15.1 million for the elementary schools and $3.1 million for LHS ADA compliance.
After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., Draeger acknowledged things must change. When he began in 2006, fire drills and buzzers were the only worries taking place, but today the emergency management plans he helped create definitely have made Livingston safer, he said.
The district does have drills often with the police and the police conduct active shooter drills, as well. Additionally, there is a police presence in the schools every day assessing for security threats. He stressed even substitute teachers will now be trained because adults are the first level of protection against a shooter in a school.
“You cannot fight a deranged person,” he said.
One key issue discussed amongst the board and the police are locked classroom doors. Draeger said having locked doors would make it difficult for a shooter to kill people and give the police more time to find the suspect. However, finding a way to lock the doors is a challenge, he said. They have tried to lock the doors from the inside, but it wasn’t successful. They also looked at dead bolt, magnetic solutions and key inside solutions. A magnetic lockdown is good, but if the power went out, it does not function.
“We are looking at a way to secure interior classroom doors very fast,” Draeger said.
There also needs to be more locations where someone could announce a security breach, instead of just the main office, he said. The district is also looking into adding cameras to the all of the schools and making the front entrances as secure as possible with either multiple cameras or cameras with wide lenses.
Over the past few months, Draeger said he has received numerous emails and phone calls from parents regarding school security and some of them have suggested adding armed guards or bullet proof glass. Draeger said installing bulletproof glass is impractical because not only does it cost thousands of dollars, but it’s very heavy and every pane of glass must be taken out and replaced.
The ideas of having armed guards and giving teachers guns really surprised him, he said. Draeger said the only people that should be allowed to carry firearms are policemen, because they have gone through extensive training, know how to aim, shoot and when to shoot. Arming anyone else is a waste of time and endangers lives, he said.
“I don’t want an armed guard and pretend we’re adding some level of safety to our schools,” he said. “This is not the way to protect the schools.”
“I don’t think adding armed guards to the mix does anyone a service,” added Board President Leslie Winograd.