A proposal for increasing family involvement and input into the law enforcement activities in Berkeley Heights Schools is an issue I have been raising for some time. I am going to avoid citing the substantial and growing amount of evidence that suggests these programs do more harm than good. I am going to focus on the importance of family involvement in programs where authority, any authority, can significantly impact children. I am going to focus on the importance of making sure that systems that serve children and families provide an adequate feedback loop so that environments remain not only safe but warm and welcoming for different people with different points of view.
I am the father of two young daughters in our district and like every parent, regardless of where they stand on this issue, I want the absolute best for them. What I believe is best for my children may not be what other parents feel is best for theirs. I get that. And in a community, we have to come to agreements and compromises so that everyone feels comfortable.
As critical as I am of law enforcement’s involvement in our schools, as absolutely convinced I am that these programs produce or WILL eventually produce more harm than good, I am willing to work towards a middle ground. Currently, safeguards for my concerns and those of other parents who share my concerns do not have a voice at the table. A framework for a proposal to change this is on the table, and I am asking for residents to consider this proposal, question it and add their voices to the conversation.
I am not asking for signatures in this article (that would be nice) but rather modeling how these programs should have been implemented in the first place. Understanding that reasonable people are going to disagree, that there are going to be differences of opinions on sensitive topics and that implementation needs to be mindful and respectful of ALL these differences. That policies like this should start with a conversation, not a fixed position.
The letter involves the Town Council because (and I want to be super clear here) they own the starting point. As much as they say this is a BOE decision, the fundamental fact remains that this program would not have existed if not for the Town Council who followed the advice of Law Enforcement and the Board of Education without a community-wide conversation. The Town Council is where this started, and they cannot simply pass the buck if the BOE continues to ignore concerns.
The letter also involves the Town Council because the Board of Education has basically avoided any acknowledgment of this issue outside controlled environments. They implemented this unilaterally and residents who have concerns have been left jumping through hoops for three years, meeting to meeting, promises to consider changes being made and nothing has happened.
You don’t have to agree with my perspective on law enforcement activities in our school, that’s absolutely ok. I think, however, that you and I can agree that your family and mine have an interest and a legitimate right to be meaningfully involved in ANY program that can have a potential impact on our children.
Keep in mind the letter that follows provides a core framework, it is not the actual proposal. I also ask that you not get lost in technicalities (the letter should frame most of what's written as recommendations to the BOE) that could be wrong (I’m not a lawyer). As of the writing of this editorial, 34 parents, residents and former alumni have signed on.
Dear Members of Berkeley Heights Town Council and Berkeley Heights Board of Education,
We are writing as parents and residents who are concerned about security policies and procedures currently in our schools. We believe that currently, a tremendous opportunity exists to increase family input into practices around safety based on the significant amount of research connected to the efficacy and impact these programs have on children. We understand that you are currently reviewing a proposal to increase family input. We support a DISTRICT WIDE Committee charged with the following:
Review and evaluate current school-based drills to the extent possible including fire, bomb threat, and active shooter drills. If necessary, revise and consistently evaluate policies and procedures to mitigate their psychological impact on those involved or consider other mechanisms to mitigate the impact on those involved.
Develop, Implement and Evaluate Confidential School-based Reporting that would allow students the ability to report grievances connected to law enforcement activities within the district.
Review policies and procedures connected to the involvement of law enforcement and safety in schools for opportunities to allow for parent feedback to make them more child and family-friendly.
Develop, Implement and Evaluate a process for children and parents to be informed of their rights when in contact with police in the schools.
Communicate to the public on indicators (developed by the committee) surrounding law enforcement activity in the district that are in the public interest.
Develop, Implement and Report on survey instruments eliciting feedback from students on law enforcement activities (qualitative and quantitative)
The Committee will hold one Public Meeting annually open to the public as a means of obtaining feedback about the scope of the Committee’s activities as defined in this document.
We feel the committee should be composed of:
The Berkeley Heights School District Superintendent
One Berkeley Heights Board of Education Member
One Senior Member of the Berkeley Heights Police Department
One Berkeley Heights School District School Counselor
Five (5) Berkeley Heights Township residents with demonstrated interest, experience or participation in school safety and security issues and who have children in Berkeley Heights Schools at the time of appointment OR have FORMAL expertise in the areas of child/adolescent development. Residents should represent populations most vulnerable to potentially negative outcomes of law enforcement activities in the school.
One Berkeley Heights Township Council Member
Many of us have communicated our concerns to each of you individually and as a collective throughout the years and believe that this policy not only serves the public interest but, more importantly, influences a more optimal learning environment for our children.
I thank you, my neighbors, for your consideration and if you want to reach out to me on this whether it’s to disagree, ask questions or include your name on this letter, please reach out…. firstname.lastname@example.org.