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Schools Move to Reassure Families After Newtown Killings

Shootings at Columbine more than a decade ago opened educators' eyes to the need for stringent school safety,

As the news from Newtown, CT, unfolded on Friday, New Jersey's schools started sending emails of reassurance to families, letting them know that local schools remained safe places for their children. 

In some communities, including New Brunswick, local police were dispatched to schools during their Friday and Monday dismissals, just for a show of presence.

But over the weekend another response was less visible in many New Jersey schools, as superintendents and principals made quieter plans: meet with staff, go over safety procedures, and be especially alert to the emotions of students and staff in the days ahead.

“If any students are particularly concerned, or seem emotional about the news they have heard, please alert a counselor or administrator in your building,” wrote Perth Amboy superintendent Janine Caffrey to her staff last night.

“Our counselors and administrators have had training in responding to this sort of situation, and are ready to assist any student in need,” she added.

It’s a long way from the weeks and months that followed the events of 13 years ago, when New Jersey and the rest of the nation were jolted awake to the reality of school violence with the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

At that time, schools were far less prepared to deal with the causes and the impact of such acts. School safety was not foreign, by any means, but prevention was nowhere near as stringent – and mandated -- as it is today.

Now, every New Jersey school is required by law to hold monthly security drills, and safety procedures are standard. Counselors are at the ready, and the state just this year added still more requirements: by October 15 every school must address cybercrimes and improve communications and surveillance .

That’s not to say every school follows these measures to the letter, but lockdown drills and camera monitors at school entrances are now commonplace. Not only do local police practice “active shooter” responses, but schools do as well.

“That was a new frontier back then,” said Adam Fried, superintendent of Harrington Park’s one-school district in Bergen County and a middle school vice principal at the time of Columbine shootings. “What do we do, who do we talk to? It was rough.”

“That changed it for a lot of us,” he said. “Security measures, making sure we are supporting the kids, we all do that.”

Harrington Park even now has “crash kits” of water and food in every classroom in case of an extended lockdown, Fried said. Still, Friday’s shooting was a jolt in its own right.

“This time, we woke up to a new reality,” he said. “An elementary school had been attacked . . . These were six year old kids.”

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

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