Education

Bernards School District Plans to Add Armed Officer at Ridge High School

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BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ  — Bernards Township school board members took a step Monday to putting a second armed officer on duty at Ridge High School in the fall.

The Board of Education signaled it will revise the job description of the school security officer position and will try to hire retired special law enforcement officers for the redefined post.

Superintendent Nick Markarian called Township Police Chief Michael Shimsky on Tuesday morning. The superintendent said the chief was supportive of seeking candidates who could work at SLEOs and would help get the search started.

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At the meeting Markarian said the district would create a new district-wide administrative position charged with coordinating both safety and security duties. Most of those duties now are assigned to an assistant principal at the high school, but Markarian said that person’s “plate runneth over” with assignments. State regulations require the district to have such an administrative position, he said.

Markarian said the school was also considering increasing law enforcement coverage, perhaps with SLEOs, at sporting and other public events.

Markarian said the school would continue using school resource officers  — township police force employees who are armed  — at both Ridge High and William Annin Middle School. The superintendent said he “loved” the SRO program and working with the township police force.

In the last couple of years, the school security job has been to monitor the entrance and process visitors’ entry at Ridge High School. The person will likely be stationed there, but Markarian agreed he or she could conceivably respond to an emergency anywhere on campus.

The first step to make the change meant abolishing the present job and replacing it with a similar one with a broader job description, ostensibly to carry a gun.

That would likely mean the job would be filled with a special law enforcement officer, who is often a retired officer trained and certified to carry and use a weapon. The SLEO would be hired through the township police department, with the school board reimbursing the township government for the salary.

Markarian said it might turn out that the school will adopt a pool of potential officers for the job in order to have flexibility and depth, much like the system of substitute teachers. Since SLEOs are like to be retired, they might not want to work a full-time job, the superintendent said.

The moves came two weeks after a commissioned report by a security analysis firm called the district “well positioned” to handle potential violent threats to its campuses, but didn’t recommend more armed police officers in buildings “at this time.”

Kathy Devlin, retired since 2007 after 27 years with the New Jersey State Police and now owner of the Dev-Tac LLC security analysis company, suggested changes to enhance protective practices and precautions.

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