BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With new state regulations allowing it, the district is working with the Bridgwater Township Police Department on the potential for bringing in retired officers to serve as Class Three school resource officers.
According to Superintendent of Schools Russell Lazovick, he is meeting with police Chief Al Nicaretta to flesh out the job description for these officers.
“We want them trained and in our buildings, but more importantly, the majority of the time should be interacting with the students,” Lazovick said. “What we’re looking for is people interacting with the students and building positive relationships with police officers.”
Lazovick said the officers are hired by the police department, but are paid for by the school district.
“They would be working hourly because they are retired,” he said. “And if someone is not performing to standards, we will work with the police department and could make a change.”
According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, the option is being made available as of June 1 by state law that creates a type of law enforcement personnel that is trained specifically to provide security in and around schools. They are called Class Three Special Law Enforcement Officers, and they are hired only to provide security at schools when they are in session.
These officers are retired so they can be hired at lower costs, but will operate under the authority of the local police department and have full police powers.
In addition to this measure, as school safety issues have continued to be addressed over the past few years, board of education member Lynne Hurley said she was at a meeting to hear a presentation from parents on Starts With Hello, a program that was started in 2012 in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook.
In the wake of the school shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida, Bridgewater-Raritan parents Niki Dawson and Adrienne Sorensen launched the Facebook group, “Not in Our Town – Bridgewater-Raritan,” to make a difference in school safety and focus on how isolation, mental health and bullying may factor into these incidents. Parents in the group have brought the Starts With Hello program to the administration, in an effort to have it implemented in all Bridgewater-Raritan schools in September.
The campaign, developed by Sandy Hook Promise, helps students identify signs of social isolation in children and gives ideas on how to reach out to those students.
Start with Hello is a program that can be delivered in classes, assemblies or through student ambassadors. It includes a wide range of activities and events to ensure sustainability and integration into the school culture.
According to the program’s website, the program teaches students in grades two through 12 the skills they will need to reach out and include those who may be dealing with social isolation, while creating a culture of inclusion and connectedness within the school.
Hurley said she would like to look at data to see the effectiveness of the program where it has been implemented.
But, she said, what is most intriguing about the program, is that it can be implemented in all the schools, thereby creating a uniform message across the district.
“Considering we have seven primary schools, it creates a common language, and the kids, as they are moving up, are hearing the same messages,” she said. “Plus I like the idea of teaching kids to be nice.”
Lazovick said the district doesn’t currently have a unified approach for all the schools.
“This is one of many options, and we are trying to get as much information as we can,” he said. “It will eventually go to the health and wellness action team, and we are looking to put things in place and a plan for September.”
“This will be a big undertaking, whatever program we do,” he added.