BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Thursday night, the mass murder of students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, seemed to be on everyone’s mind at the Board of Education meeting.
The board observed a moment of silence following the Pledge of Allegiance for the 17 people killed and 14 wounded in the shooting, as well as their families, friends, school personnel and first responders. Superintendent of Schools Judith Rattner devoted her mission moment to the importance of student safety and reminded everyone of the steps the district has taken to make the schools more secure. A group of students from the high school told the board that they will be taking part in a March 14 walk out that will last 17 minutes to mark the first month anniversary of the shooting. A parent wanted to know if the cell tower on school property was fully operational, because cell service is so unreliable at the school.
Friday morning two of the district’s schools were in lockdown. Police cars were at Governor Livingston High School and Columbia Middle School. No one was allowed to enter either school until the situation was resolved.
It was a stark reminder of how mass shootings can happen anywhere, that upgrading school safety measures is not just one more box to check on a seemingly endless stream of boxes; that students who want to walk out to show solidarity with the victims in Parkland and to call for more strict gun control regulations are looking for more control over the issue, and that a non-working cell tower is no longer acceptable.
Officials quickly learned the threat was not directed at any of the Berkeley Heights schools – nor at Bayonne High School, which also was locked down. Soon it was business as usual at both GL and Columbia Middle schools. But, for a while it wasn't.
On Friday morning, when two VFW members and a TAPinto reporter arrived at Governor Livingston High School to present awards to the Voice of Democracy Audio/Essay contest winners, they learned the high school was on lockdown. After about 20 minutes, the decision was made to schedule that award presentation for another day and to head to Columbia Middle School, which should be ready for the scheduled 10:45 a.m. presentation.
At Columbia Middle School, plaques were presented to the two winners of the VFW Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest. Each of the winners was in class and seemed surprised to see two older men with uniforms on, a teacher and reporter arrive with the principal. The principal called the student up, the VFW representative told the student she had won, handed her the plaque and everyone shook hands and posed for photos. Then off the group went to the next winner’s class. In each room, when the students heard why everyone was there, they broke into applause.
Isn’t it nice to know that some people will remember they heard applause today – imagine what they might have heard.