MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Changes to the security policy of South Orange-Maplewood School District will be taken under advisement by the Board of Education, in part due to the passionate advocacy of three elementary students. The three girls spoke about what lockdown drills are like for them at the Sept. 16 Board of Education meeting. Each of them asked the board not to put them through any more surprise drills that are hyper-realistic.
Hailey, a South Orange resident currently in fifth grade, asked for fewer “Code Red” drills. She recalled being locked in a bathroom alone during a drill last year and being so nervous it would happen again that she stopped drinking water, resulting in dehydration headaches and a doctor’s visit.
Lola, who is 10, called the realistic drills — in which students crowd into closets and other hiding places and must maintain silence — “stressful” and said although the children know it is not real, “kids are still traumatized” by the drill itself. The third student, Sabine, said the required silence during the drills “builds up anxiety.”
The students spoke during Public Speaks, the three-minute slots for residents to be heard by the board about current and future district issues.
Local parents also used their three minutes to advocate for changes. Jennifer Serravallo of South Orange contrasted the drills with pre-flight instructions. She noted that the oxygen masks are never deployed to prep the passengers, simply that instructions are given regarding how to put them on; to actually do so would be a waste of time and frightening to the passengers, as the current drills are to the students.
Natalie Perretti of South Orange said that “we all want our students, teachers and staff to be well prepared for an emergency,” but when children say the realistic drills are stressful, “we should believe them.” She stated that security policies “must be sensible and evidence based” while following state law. All those who spoke on the topic were in support of proposed changes to the SOMSD Board of Education Policy 8420 regarding Emergency and Crisis Situations submitted by local group SOMA Justice.
Superintendent Dr. Ronald Taylor, in remarks after the public comments, said he heard the students’ and parents’ concerns. “I will now go back through the policy,” he said.
Thomas Shea, director of security for the district, then spoke at the BOE’s behest. He acknowledged that the drills are too realistic and said he is “tasked with protecting all the students of this district” and agreed that “there is a better way.”
During the new business portion of the meeting a motion was passed which will gather feedback on the topic for the BOE, present policy changes for a first read to the full board, and discern adjustments that can be implemented without policy changes.
All current action items before the board were approved during the meeting. The next BOE meeting will be October 28. The board will meet in closed session at 6:30 p.m. and in public session at 7:30.