SPOTSWOOD, NJ - In the wake of the Valentine's Day shooting at Majory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, school security has come to the forefront of the minds of many area parents, students and educators as school shootings continue to plague educational institutions across the nation. On Monday, the Spotswood School District invited parents and residents to come to a round table discussion hosted by the district's school safety committee, which involves a team of individuals that includes the Spotswood Police Department.
Spotswood School District Acting Superintendent Graham Peabody anchored the team that was lead by school safety specialist Michael Mastroserio, Spotswood Police Chief Michael Zarro and School Resource Officer, Sergeant Ed Schapley, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Selina Pewitt, Business Administrator Vita Marino, Board of Education President Dulce Branco-Rivera and Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Jose Rivera. The team meets on a monthly basis. Mastroserio also serves as the vice principal of Spotswod High School, working closely with Schapley on school safety. Schapley is also the School Resource Officer and is a constant daily presence at the high school known throughout the four schools as Officer Ed.
The Spotswood School District houses four schools, teaching children from the borough and nearby Helmetta. Milltown students enter the district in ninth grade.
After his introduction, Mastroserio began the talk by giving an overview of the current safety plan in place within the districts four schools, highlighting the improved communication and surveillance in the borough's schools as well as the emergency drills practiced by all the students and staff such as fire drills, evacuation drills and lock downs in addition to how the school safety committee is working to better the current security measures. However, Mastroserio stopped short of discussing all of the layers of the district's security defenses.
"It's a different day in law enforcement when school is not in session," Zarro said in his opening remarks. "I can tell you all of the people in the Spotswood Police Department are stakeholders in the community. They have children in these schools as well."
Zarro quipped that he looks forward to summer vacation just as much as the students and teachers since the focus on school safety is so high during the academic year.
"I'm extremely confident that your children and the teachers and the staff are all safe here," Zarro continued. "But I also need help."
The Chief went on to explain the department's new program, S.C.A.N. or School Community Action Network. S.C.A.N. is basically an extension of the "See Something, Say Something" campaign that took action after 9/11. The goal of the School Community Action Network is to open up the lines of communication between residents, teachers, students and parents, encouraging people to share troubling social media posts, rumors, conversations or behaviors that may affect the borough's four schools. S.C.A.N. provides individuals with a direct link to Schapley by telephone or email.
"You know what I see missing nationwide is any kind of prevention," Zarro said of the school shootings. "It's all reactive; arming people in the schools, arming teachers. Help us, help you."
The next segment of the evening moved toward the public portion, letting people from the audience ask questions or comment on the current visible security measures. The audience was a mix of a contingent of parents in addition to Spotswood School District teachers, administrators and staff as well as students past and present. Spotswood Mayor Ed Seely and Helmetta Mayor Chris Slavicek, town council members and concerned residents were also in attendance.
Public questions and concerns ran the gamut from installing metal detectors to closing the school on Election Day to fulltime officers in each school to church organizations utilizing the facilities on weekends. Many parents seemed to have issues with the security of CARES, which provides before and after school care for students in Schoenly and Appleby. Others voiced issues with parents holding doors for individuals not yet authorized to enter the school, doors being propped open, background checks on school volunteers and chaperones as well as training substitutes on the district's emergency procedures. Some residents offered up suggestions such as door alarms on all outer doors and the installation of vestibules. Two current SHS students stood up and shared many students' concern about security for after school sports and activities.
"The disappointing part," Seely said when the Spotswood mayor took the microphone. "Is look around you. There are far more students in this school then parents here. This is a very serious issue."
Seely went on to say that he was impressed by the panel's response to the parent questions and concerns. Zarro, Peabody, Mastroserio and Schapley all made notes on various issues and points that audience members touched on.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening came when Helen Maldonado took the microphone near the end of the two-hour discussion. Maldonado has children in the district, works in the schools and is active in the Spotswood PTA. She also has a close connection to the recent Parkland shooting. Maldonado spoke of the feeling of panic when learning her 14-year-old niece was a student at the site of the latest school shooting. After relief flooded in when learning the teen was safe, Maldonado and her family were left with the aftermath. A friend of the teen was shot and a best friend killed.
"No one's child should ever have to experience that," Maldonado said.
Peabody promised audience members in attendance that there would be some type of follow-up to the evening's round table discussion in the near future.
Residents, students and teachers can take part in the "See or Hear Something, Say Something, Do Something" S.C.A.N. campaign by emailing Schapley at email@example.com or by telephoning the sergeant at 732-416-1861. The information can be passed along to the Spotswood Police Department anonymously.
Spotswood High School students will mark the National School Walk Out on March 14 proposed by Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School students to honor the 17 victims of the Valentine's Day in their own way. The school will observe a moment of silence as well as prepare a signed banner and cards as a show of solidarity to the Florida students in addition to the student body being addressed by class presidents. The decision was made by the class presidents along with Spotswood High School Principal Thomas Calder as to how best to honor the 17 lives lost on February 14.