RARITAN TWP., NJ - Armed police officers will be coming to schools in the Flemington-Raritan School District starting this summer, based on agreements now being discussed between the township and the K-8 district.
Superintendent Kari McGann told the Township Committee at its meeting Tuesday that while the district has “many procedures and systems in place” to ensure safety in the district’s schools, her goal is to do whatever she can “to protect our staff and students.”
It’s a big responsibility. The district has about 3,100 students and a certified staff of 375 spread across six schools in the township and in Flemington.
The officers would be so-called “Class III” officers of the township’s Police Department.
Class III police officers were established by state legislation in 2016 “for the explicit purpose of providing security at ... schools when schools are in session or occupied by students or staff,” according to the New Jersey School Boards Association. The officers must be retired police officers and undergo the same special training as School Resource Officers.
The township’s Police Department doesn’t have any Class III officers now, but Township Committee agreed Tuesday to move forward with an ordinance that could change that and a “police service agreement” with the school district.
McGann said the school district is “prepared to move forward with our budget” to allow hiring two township officers for the 2019-20 academic year “with the expectation for the agreement to be re-upped each new school year.” She said she will also be seeking to acquire an officer from Flemington police and plans to seek additional officers each year until eventually having six officers.
Class III officers are part-time and typically are paid $40,000 to $60,000 a year, McGann said. They continue to collect the pensions and health benefits that they earned from their career positions.
But there are upfront costs – such as uniforms and firearms – and, “I would ask that the Committee help with that to at least get us started,” McGann said.
McGann stressed that the officers would be only part of extensive security measures and planning that the school district already has in place. District schools use, gates, controlled access, and security cameras, she said. Staff uses badges and photo IDs.
The district is also at work on employing a digital mapping tool being managed by the county Prosecutor’s Office to be used in emergencies.
Prevention is a priority, McGann said, “and we want to mitigate any possible instances of violence.” Staff helps identify students, “who may be struggling and provide intervention and support for those students very early on.”
“Someone who is a school shooter does not just snap,” McGann said.
The superintendent cited chilling statistics. Between 1999 and 2006, there were 116 students killed in a school setting, she said, and 65 percent were result of a shooting. And there have been 74 school shootings since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, according to McGann.
That’s why district schools conduct training and exercises, McGann said. “Unfortunately we also have to think about ‘How do we respond?’ and ‘How do we recover?’ should we ever be attacked.”
“We want to help teachers, and staff, and anybody that’s involved in our school district as well as our emergency management professionals know what to do,” should a severe security event occur.
Hunterdon Central High School Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Moore said he supports the ordinance that would allow hiring the officers and is looking forward to further conversation because “we’re very interested as well” in hiring Class III police.
Moore praised Raritan Township Police School Resource Officer Tim Nemeth.
When interacting with students, Nemeth, “in many ways is just as impactful as a teacher or administrator,” Moore said.
Township Administrator Don Hutchins said the agreement that would allow the Class III officers in the Flemington-Raritan School District would be similar to the arrangement the township has with Hunterdon Central that covers Nemeth’s service.