BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Did you know there is a Crisis Planning Committee in the school district? How is a Class III Officer different than a School Resource Officer? How often do police officers stop by the district schools?
These and many more questions were answered Monday night during a report on School Safety and Security presented by Assistant Principal of Governor Livingston High School Lawrence Seid, Berkeley Heights Police Chief John DiPasquale and Lieutenant Ernest Schmidt.
As part of an overview of how the district deals with safety issues, Seid went over the legal requirements placed on schools by the state, what training is required for faculty and staff members, and how security can be improved, among other things.
Each school in the district is required to have one fire drill and one school safety/security drill each month. Those school safety/security drills are: Lockdown; Active Shooter; Non-Fire Evacuation and Bomb Threat drills. Each of those drills must be held at least twice a year, he said.
Not only do the staff members have to know how to run those drills, they are required by law to be trained on school safety and security procedures – not just once as new staff members, but each year. Returning staff members undergo refresher training and learn new requirements each year, he said.
There are crisis response manuals in the schools created with the help of local police, fire and Office of Emergency Management (OEM) departments and the Crisis Planning Committee members discuss and share the best practices with staff members.
Police also schedule building walk-throughs and offer suggestions on how to improve security in some area.
During the summer, the district made a number of security improvements to the buildings, all designed to “harden” the schools. There are secure vestibules at the schools, increased and enhanced cameras, key card systems for faculty and staff members, outside maintenance which has eliminated large shrubs or other items which could provide cover for a shooter.
Seid said, “We can’t do the things we do without their support,” referring to the police department.
These physical security upgrades “have had positive feedback” from staff and parents, even though it represents a “change of culture for parents,” said Seid.
All the changes to the physical plant and grounds would not be effective without changes to the curriculum and the culture of the schools. To that end, each Berkeley Heights Public School has a school safety team, which focuses on promoting a positive school climate, meets regularly and has a parent representative on the team. At each grade level there is a focus on character development – whether that be working on conflict resolution, problem solving skills, or on being kind to other children.
Communication is also important and the superintendent recommends that people follow a “If you see something, say something,” model. Right now, someone can submit a concern through Hibster, or if they prefer, to an administrator, guidance counselor or even the police department. “We want to hear from you – hear your concerns,” she said.
There is a Class III Police Officer in the schools – the position is held by a retired police officer with more than 20 years of experience and who was the district’s School Resource Officer for 13 years. He carries a gun and is fully trained and continues to train. There is also a School Resource Officer in the district, who is a full-time police officer who goes between schools – visiting all the schools.
Chief DiPasquale said the department helps the district by laying out protocols for the drills and giving guidance when the drills are in progress and afterwards.
Lt. Schmidt said police officers are often in the buildings, which helps all the officers learn their way around the school. “Every time we have an officer in the building, the officer becomes familiar with the layout of the building.”
The teachers learn from the police officers and they, in turn, learn from the teachers and other staff members, he said.
The school district provides facilities for the police department to run various drills in the schools for officers to get familiar with them while practicing techniques and protocols.
Superintendent Judith Rattner said she and Chief DiPasquale meet with other superintendents and police chiefs from other towns periodically. They all share a common concern about safety and if something is a concern in one town, it could become a concern locally, so they communicate.
DiPasquale said, “If something affects a neighboring community, its important to stay open and share information on what works and what doesn’t work.”
A copy of the complete presentation on School Safety and Security can be seen here.