Authored by: Kevin Craig
As summer turns to fall, schools in New Jersey are welcoming students and staff back into their buildings. While the summer break was a time of relaxation for students, school administrators, facilities staff, and security personnel were hard at work preparing for the upcoming school year. In addition to updating curriculum and enhancing facilities, ensuring the safety and security of everyone on campus remains a top priority. Here are some essential tips for a safe and secure return to school in New Jersey.
1. Annual Review of School Safety and Security Plans
Under N.J.A.C. 6A:16-5.1, each school district is mandated to have comprehensive safety and security plans. These plans must be reviewed and updated by the third week of October. Make sure your district complies and submits a Statement of Assurance by November 30 each year.
TIP: Start the school year with up-to-date safety and security plans so that staff can become familiar with any changes before students arrive.
2. Fire and Security Drills
According to N.J.S.A. 18A:41-1, schools must conduct monthly fire drills and security drills. Fire drills should be conducted within the first 10 days of the school year, and security drills within the first 15 days.
TIP: Ensure that these drills are completed promptly to instill a sense of preparedness in both staff and students.
3. Staff Training (Including Substitutes)
N.J.S.A 18A:41-7 mandates that all full-time employees receive training on school safety and security, including school security drills.
TIP: Schedule professional development opportunities during the school year and at staff meetings to reinforce the importance of school safety and create a culture of security awareness.
4. Annual School Security Audit
Schools must conduct an annual security audit for each building, as per P.L. 2019, CHAPTER 478.
TIP: Ensure that your school complies with this requirement and submits the audit to the NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the Department of Education.
5. Behavioral Threat Assessment Teams
New Jersey Public Schools, Charter Schools, and Renaissance Schools must establish threat assessment teams to identify and manage students of concern, as per recent legislation.
TIP: Follow guidance from the Department of Education and State law enforcement agencies to develop policies that enhance school safety.
6. Building Maintenance and Security Technology Check
TIP: Before the school year begins, assess and ensure the proper functioning of security-related systems and technology, including camera systems, access control systems, alarm systems, and emergency notification systems.
7. Best Practices to Consider:
- Update “Emergency Go” kits.
- Schedule security staff/School Resource Officers.
- Review and sign Memorandum of Agreement between Education and Law Enforcement.
- Draft a security welcome letter to parents.
- Enforce the wearing of identification badges by all staff.
- Assign staff/student parking tags.
- Plan a drill schedule for the year.
- Consider security planning for special events, extracurricular activities, athletics, and facility use by outside organizations.
8. Look Beyond Physical Security
Remember that school security goes beyond physical measures. Address mental health and cybersecurity concerns as part of your holistic safety and security strategy to prevent and mitigate emerging threats and vulnerabilities beyond the physical plant.
By following these tips and staying compliant with New Jersey’s safety and security regulations, your school can ensure a safe and secure learning environment for all. Welcome back to school!