WEST ORANGE, NJ – With the one month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people being observed today, the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) put a major focus of its Monday meeting on issues concerning school safety and security.
Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky announced that students at the West Orange High School (WOHS) will be participating in the national student walkout on Wednesday, and that he is supportive of their efforts to bring issues concerning school safety and security to the fore. He added that there will be no consequences for students participating in the walkout as long as they leave and return to the school in an orderly and timely fashion.
“It is an opportunity to raise awareness and hopefully stop the tragic gun violence that has taken place in schools for far too long,” said Rutzky.
He also confirmed that the West Orange Police Department and West Orange Public Schools have formulated a plan that will permit students in grades 6-12 to express their feelings as part of the national student walkout, while respecting other students who prefer to remain inside the schools during the walkout.
He said that the large snowfall has complicated security issues regarding the walkout, but that these challenges will be managed as long as the students fully cooperate.
“When students attend their social studies class, they will have the opportunity to reflect on a prompt that the social studies department created about their experience of the walkout,” said Rutzky. “It is important to tie events such as this into the curriculum so it is truly a learning experience on participatory democracy and the importance of standing up for what you believe.”
Rutzky added that the students who do not walk out will be held in a supervised location within the school. For any students who participate in the walkout and return when the 17-minute walkout concludes, Rutzky said it will not be considered a cut or absence from class.
Elementary students in grades PreK-5 will not participate in the walkout or any form of demonstration.
In a related matter that concerns security, Rutzky has recommended a 2018-19 calendar year revision that will close schools on Election Day.
WOBOE member Sandra Mordecai spoke in favor of this change.
“I like the idea of schools being closed on Election Day,” she said. “It makes our schools more secure for the kids.”
Gregory Elementary School teacher Jean Tirrito thanked Rutzky for recommending this change. She also suggested that any school facilties that cannot be closed for Election Day should consider utilzing a tent outside of the school building.
Rutzky said that many good ideas were generated at the Safety and Security Forum on Feb. 28. He added that people who could not attend the meeting can provide suggestions and/or ideas on www.woboe.org, which now has a form that community members can fill out regarding their thoughts on ways to make West Orange schools safer.
“We want to give the community an opportunity to make their suggestions for short-term and long-term solutions,” said Rutzky.
He said that every door in this district has been evaluated to make sure it meets the highest security standards. Rutzky added that the WOBOE is working with Homeland Security and local law enforcement to make sure that every door that needs to be changed is identified.
“Doors are important,” said Rutzky. “When you secure the perimeter of a building, you can keep bad people out.”
During public comment, resident Jeremiah Salinas asked the board members if they are creating a financial plan to make most of the needed security changes happen in a timely manner.
WOBOE President Ron Charles said the board will need to budget for long-range security needs in the district, but added that establishing a Safety and Security Committee is a “top priority.”