WESTFIELD, NJ — With the new school year will come new security measures at public schools in this town following the arrest of an armed man on the grounds of a local elementary school last June and a heightened awareness of school safety across the nation.
School officials detailed infrastructure upgrades, a new policy for visitors and discussed security training for staff at a Board of Education session Tuesday during which some residents called for armed guards in schools — a move district officials have decided against.
“All of these horrific events that we’ve had happen over the past few years, in most cases, somebody has been aware that they were planning to do something,” said School Business Administrator Dana Sullivan. “The signs are there, so a lot of our training has been and will continue … throughout this school year — training staff to identify and notify someone if they see somebody in crisis, whether it’s a student or a staff person or anyone.”
Resident Kim McKee was among the parents to call for the armed guards at local schools.
“If 30 kids got killed at Tamaques [School], would that be feasible?” said McKee, who expressed concern staff members would not be equipped to handle an emergency situation. “What happens when a staff member makes a mistake?”
Superintendent Margaret Dolan cited both research and discussion with law enforcement in explaining the district’s decision not to place armed officers in district schools elementary and intermediate schools.
“If [having security guards] was the most effective thing to do, then we could have done that,” Dolan said. “But our research, and our talking to law enforcement, isn’t that.”
Sullivan noted recent school shootings where armed security officers were present.
“Columbine, as well as Parkland both, had armed people on site,” Sullivan said. “And it didn’t stop the terrible events that happened there.”
District officials presented a slate of target hardening measures Tuesday. View the official presentation here.
As announced earlier this year, Westfield High School, Edison Intermediate School and Roosevelt Intermediate School are receiving new classroom and stairwell doors that lock automatically once the principal initiates a lockdown, as well as security gates that will lock certain areas of the building during night hours.
Sullivan said the district anticipates installing the upgraded doors during this school year and implementing similar upgrades for the elementary schools beginning next summer. Officials hope to complete the second round of upgrades during the 2020-21 school year, Sullivan said.
“All of our doors that have any glass around them, outside doors, have 3M film put on them that makes them shatterproof,” Sullivan said. “If somebody tried to shoot a bullet into those doors, they wouldn’t be able to stick their hands in and open the door or walk through the window.”
Classrooms windows near school entryways also are coated with this film and all new windows installed with received the treatment, she said.
The district is also tightening security surrounding school visitors.
Beginning this academic year, the district will require all visitors make an appointment 24 hours in advance before coming onto school grounds, officials said. The public can make these appointments by phone or email through staff members, officials said.
Visitors must sign in at the main office upon entry to the building, show their ID and receive a visitor badge. They must also return to the main office before exiting the building to return their badge and sign out.
Signage will direct visitors to the main office, and cameras will ensure every visitor follows the procedure, Sullivan said.
“We do have cameras, so staff people in the main office, after they allow somebody to enter the building, they can see where people are going if they don’t go right to the office,” she said.
All schools will also have a drop-box outside of the building, so that parents may drop off items for their students if necessary without entering the buildings, she said.
The district is implementing these changes based on recommendations from local police, county and state officials, and StoneGate Associates, a security consulting firm hired by the district, officials said.
School administration officials highlighted how several recent events, such as mass shootings across the nation and the arrest of an armed man outside Tamaques school in June, prompted the need for additional security measures.
Sullivan said the district is currently focusing on procedures during school and after hours, while they are still working out the details for nighttime or community events held in the schools.
“We understand that there are going to be challenges to this. We haven’t worked through every one of those challenges,” she said. “These are things we’re going to have to work through as they come up. For the start of the school year, this is the plan we have in place”
Resident Megan Brennan, however, expressed concern about security responsibilities falling on school secretaries.
“You cannot expect two secretaries to manage all of that,” Brennan said. “I’m so passionate about getting staff into the school that knows security.”
What Happens Next?
At the next board meeting, the district’s architects will present plans to the board possible renovation plans for school vestibules, Board President Peggy Oster said. The meeting will be held at 302 Elm Street at 7:30pm on Tuesday, Sept. 17.
“It is truly a community effort,” Oster said. “We all care and we want to make this the safest place that we can.”
“My email is there,” she added. “Please feel free to reach out to me with any thoughts and so forth.”