ROXBURY, NJ – Former law enforcement officers working as security personnel in Roxbury schools will be permitted to carry handguns on the job under a policy approved recently by the school board.

Only security officers who meet state qualifications, including State Police review, will be allowed to carry the concealed handguns and they will be placed on administrative leave any time they draw or fire a weapon. The leave will be “pending an investigation of the appropriateness” of the gun use “as critical and necessary for maintaining safe and secure operations of the school district,” says the policy.

It was approved July 23 by a vote of 5-3 with board members Richard Alexander, Carol Scheneck and Daniel Masi voting no.

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As he did at the board’s June meeting when the proposed policy was introduced, Alexander said he doesn’t think providing armed security personnel should be a school district’s job. “Fundamentally, I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of the school to recruit, maintain and train a lethal security force,” Alexander said.

Scheneck said she agreed with Alexander and added, “I really have misgivings about having concealed carry in schools. I have a real problem with that. Mr. Alexander spoke last time about the possibility of accidental discharge, and there have been a number of occurrences in the past …  There were people who were so-called gun experts that were demonstrating the proper use of guns that had accidental discharges of the guns.”

Roxbury School Board President Leo Coakley, who supported the policy, said there are six or seven security officers in the district. He noted state law allows qualified school security officers to be armed, but each district needs to approve a policy regarding the practice.

“A lot of neighboring districts have done it,” Coakley said.

Among the qualifications stated in the policy is the requirement that the armed guard “was a law enforcement officer who retired in good standing and has a valid permit to carry a handgun … and a permit to possess a handgun in a school building or on school grounds” during his or her working hours.

The vote on the policy came at the same school board meeting where three members of the Roxbury Mayor and Council came to discuss their findings about removing election voting from schools for security purposes. The municipal officials said the only viable way to do that – without closing schools – would be to use the township buildings at Horseshoe Lake, an expensive venture and one they hoped the school district would help fund.

That request for money prompted Alexander to suggest the town help pay for arming the security officers.

“Councilwoman (Jaki) Albrecht indicated our two groups need to come together as one to protect our children,” Alexander said. “They say, `We’re interested in looking at this comprehensively,’ (so) they’re probably interested in participating on a cost-sharing in protecting the children in our schools. I would strongly suggest we engage them in that regard since that is fundamentally their responsibility to recruit, train and maintain a security force to protect the citizens of this town.”

When the gun policy was discussed by the board in June, board member Anne Collucci said she initially opposed the idea, but changed her mind. Board member Margaret Casola said she would vote in favor, but noted she felt “terrible we’re even having this discussion.” Board member Ron Lucas said he supported the policy because “the primary concern is the safety of our staff and students.”