PATERSON, NJ – Should city education officials increase the number of armed security guards at Paterson schools?

That’s one of the key questions confronting Paterson Public Schools as the district weighs making changes in its security system in the aftermath of the Newtown, Ct. tragedy. Officials have scheduled a Community Forum on school security for Wednesday night at 6:30 pm at School 26.

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 “The gun issue is something we’re definitely going to be discussing,’’’ said Board of Education President Christopher Irving.

“People do stupid things around a crisis,’’ said another board member, Jonathan Hodges, who questions the wisdom of increasing the number of armed guards in the schools. “In the heat of an event, people want to do everything,’’ he added.

At present, the district has 12 armed guards. They are off-duty city police officers who the district pays to provide security in the schools. The Kennedy and Eastside complexes each have three of them, while the others are stationed at International High, School 15, Rosa Parks, Great Falls Academy, the downtown academies (including PANTHER and HARP), and the academies at the Boris Kroll complex (Destiny, Sports Business and Public Safety).

Until about two months ago, city schools also had 11 retired law enforcement officers on the in-house security staff carrying weapons. But about two weeks before the killings in Newtown, district officials decided to those employees could no longer keep their guns while working in the schools. Now, officials are considering returning to the previous practice. That would almost double the number of armed security staff in the schools.

The retired officers are part of a 50-member district security staff. None of the others had been allowed to have weapons. In addition to the off-duty officials and the in-house staff, Paterson Public Schools also pays Control Security Services more than $3 million per year to provide 196 guards who monitor hallways and entrances at school buildings.

The breakdown on the numbers of security personnel is contained in a 35-page preliminary report that Deputy Superintendent Eileen Shafer provided to school board members last week.

The report says the district is working to resolve problems with its classroom door locks, many of which are malfunctioning or outdated.

“The District Plan will be to secure the most vulnerable locations first, putting in a protocol with the Security Department as to how staff can safeguard their rooms in case of a threat,’’ says the report. “We will develop a phased-in plan to provide full security for every room with the capability of securing them from the inside.’’

In an outline of current security systems in place, the report says that Great Falls Academy is the only city school with metal detectors. The report indicates that less than half the schools have security cameras and that the majority have a fence around the grounds.

Among the other things under consideration in the report are:

  • Hiring additional Board Security officers
  • Installing a buzzer-camera security system at school entrances
  • Providing board security officers with bullet-proof vests and handcuffs
  • Reviewing the cell phone policy to allow teachers to have their cell phones on
  • Installing bullet-proof glass at school buildings with glass door entrances
  • Providing principals with iPhones
  • Issuing IDs for substitute teachers
  • Creating a District Crisis Command Center