BLOOMFIELD, NJ - Emotions ran high prior to and during Tuesday's Board of Education meeting at Bloomfield High School.
Prior to the regularly scheduled meeting, about 25 parents protested outside of the main entrance with signs expressing their disapproval of the placing of armed guards in all district schools. Several parents had megaphones, while many drivers passing by on Broad Street honked their horns in support.
The protest continued outside while the BOE was in private Executive Session for the first hour. The public meeting then followed and was peaceful.
A packed Library Media Center saw more than 120 individuals gather for the public meeting, which began with high school principal Chris Jennings, and middle school principal Alta Vayda-Manzo, addressing the board in support of adding school resource officers (SRO’s).
“It’s about building relationships, and Officer Camacho who we already have in the middle school and who is here with us (at the meeting tonight) is very valuable,” said Vayda-Manzo. “Kids can go to him anytime during the school day in addition to him being a direct line to our police department.”
The high school and middle school already have SRO’s in place, with the BOE looking to add them to the elementary schools. The principals spoke about their experiences with SRO’s in their schools.
“Detective Muniz in the high school provides positive interactions with students,” said Jennings. “From bullying issues to student conflicts, our kids feel comfortable with him.”
The attendees respectfully applauded both principals at the conclusions of their statements.
Public Safety director Samuel DeMaio then took to the podium to express his views about the officers in the middle school and high school, as well as the BOE adding SRO’s – who would be employees of the Bloomfield Police Department – into the elementary schools.
“It’s about building a community trust between the students and the school district and the police department…it’s an invaluable resource,” DeMaio said. “We need security in our schools for the safety of our students.”
“How many incidents do we need in this country before we change what we do?” DeMaio added. “Confusion in a school is what prolongs an active shooter situation. Having an SRO can help relay information immediately to our police department and it saves time and it saves lives.”
The BOE went directly to the public comment portion of the meeting, which allots 45-minutes of time and is limited to three-minutes per person. Due to the emotional nature of the subject matter, the comment portion was extended and ran nearly two hours, with some individuals speaking longer than three minutes.
Public comment speakers included parents, teachers, former teachers, residents and current students. Some spoke of personal experiences, some about possible taxpayer implications, while others recited school shooting statistics. Only three of the 45 members of the public that spoke were in favor of SRO’s.
First up to address the meeting was Rich Galioto, a former BOE member and military veteran.
“I’m in favor of metal detectors instead of SRO’s,” Galioto said. “I’d rather have the metal detectors help keep guns and knives out of the schools rather than risk someone bringing them into the schools in the first place.”
The approximate price tag of SRO’s in all public schools will cost the township a total $555,000 annually.
Maria Sanders, a parent and former school social worker, said, “having armed officers in our elementary schools is losing focus of the real issue. We need more guidance counselors and teachers to improve communication and help with mental health issues. The reason most elementary schools don’t have an armed officer is because they don’t need one.”
DeMaio also fielded questions from the public and addressed their concerns. The BOE said the many questions addressed directly to the board will be answered later, presumably at the next board meeting.
Broadcast media and television crews from New York City were also present at the meeting.