TRENTON, NJ – A two-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Pamela Lampitt, Eric Houghtaling and Andrew Zwicker to help facilitate law enforcement response to school emergencies and ensure school buildings are safe was released Monday by an Assembly panel.
The two bills were prompted by the discourse that took place during the joint hearings held by the Senate and Assembly Education Committees on school security earlier in the spring.
The first bill (A-4112) would require public and nonpublic school to provide to local law enforcement authorities a copy of the current blueprints and maps for all schools and school grounds within the school district or nonpublic school. The bill is sponsored by Schaer.
“Every second counts during an emergency,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Providing law enforcement with this information ahead of time can help save time and lives during a crisis.”
The requirement is contained in the “Uniform State Memorandum of Agreement Between Education and Law Enforcement Officials.” Current State Board of Education regulations require all school districts to have this agreement. This bill would put this requirement into statute.
If a school is located in a municipality with no municipal police department, a copy of the blueprints and maps would be provided to an entity designated by the Superintendent of State Police.
The second bill (A-4147), sponsored by Lampitt, Houghtaling and Zwicker, would require school districts to annually conduct a school safety audit for each of its buildings using a standardized checklist. The school district would submit the completed audit to the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the Department of Education. The audits would be kept confidential and would not be deemed a public record. The audits may be used for the purposes of allocating any state grants or loans available for school facility safety and security upgrades.
“We have seen how vulnerable our schools can be during a violent attack,” said Lampitt (D-Burlington). “Knowing their security strengths and weaknesses can help schools better prepare for these types of emergencies, so they can minimize the risks and keep students and staff safe.”
“Sadly, these are things that schools have to think about and prepare for,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “These annual audits can help schools keep track of what security features are working, and what needs enhancing to help ensure the safety of students, teachers and staff.”
“Our schools are facing threats unlike any others previously faced,” said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Middlesex/Hunterdon). “While it won’t solve all the causes of school shootings, gathering and identifying data through an annual school safety audit will help schools and security experts identify security deficiencies, to be able to take appropriate, proactive measures.”
The checklist, which would be used by school districts to conduct the audit, would be developed by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness in collaboration with the Department of Education, and would be reviewed annually and updated as appropriate.
The checklist would include items to assess the security features and security vulnerabilities of a school district’s school buildings and grounds. It would also include items to assess the emergency notification systems used to facilitate notification of the community in the case of school emergencies.
Under the bill, school districts would be provided technical assistance to facilitate the completion of the checklists in a uniform manner.
This act would take effect immediately and would be applicable to the first full school year beginning after the date of enactment.
The bills were released by the Assembly Education Committee.