Bills to protect N.J. schools from threats advance in Assembly
The bills would require school staff to take more steps to protect students in the case of a shooter or other threats. (Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office)
Two weeks after 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, lawmakers in New Jersey are taking steps they say will ensure the state’s public schools are protected.
The Assembly Education Committee advanced three bills Thursday that would require more training for school security officers, provide law enforcement with maps of school buildings, and help school officials and students recognize threatening behavior.
“We’ve never been so challenged. We’ve never been at this critical juncture. And our concern is, if we don’t continue to challenge ourselves to do more, be more, help our children, and be focused on our children, then I don’t know. I don’t know what more we should be doing,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), the committee’s chairwoman.
Witnesses testified overwhelmingly in favor of the bills, including a measure (A4075) that would require districts to establish threat assessment teams in each school. Ryan Alcott, a school resource officer for Woodbury schools, called it a life-saving measure.
Under the bill, schools would be required to create guidance for students and staff on how to recognize threatening behavior, designate how and to whom such behavior is reported, and develop a policy to assess at-risk students. Each school district’s designated school safety specialist would help form the policy.
“We need more tools in our toolbox for active shooter prevention,” said Alcott. “You can either observe these concerning behaviors and assess and mitigate the issue, or you can choose to observe those certain behaviors, choose not to report, and do absolutely nothing.”
Another bill (A3835) would require school officials, including at private and charter schools, to submit building maps to law enforcement. Some districts already have these maps but have not shared them with their local police departments, said Jennie Lamon, with the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.
Lamon and others requested an amendment for the state to provide funding for schools that cannot afford to create maps of all their buildings.
The third bill (A3229) would require training for school security employees to include behavioral threat assessments so they can identify students who could pose a risk. The measure would also create a behavioral assessment team, similar to the first bill.
The behavioral assessment team, comprising a school counseling employee, a teacher, a senior administrator, and a resource officer, would be trained on how to identify students who could post a threat. It would also direct the state Department of Education to work with the state Office of Homeland Security on training for the teams.
“We are advocates for our kids and our families and our communities,” Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) said. “While we in New Jersey don’t have access to assault weapons, we as a country … have got to step up, speak up, and address this issue and not wait for the next tragedy. I don’t want to see that again, ever.”
All bills passed unanimously and headed to the full Assembly for a vote. The Senate Education Committee has yet to hold a hearing on companion bills.
Two Republican lawmakers said the committee did not go far enough. Assemblyman Brandon Umba (R-Camden) proposed an amendment to require law enforcement training on threat assessment policies. The panel’s Democrats tabled the amendment.
And Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis (R-Union) called on the committee to vote on nine other bills on school safety that have yet to receive a hearing. The Republican-backed package includes bills that would require districts to maintain 24-hour hotlines for anonymous school safety tips, implement policies requiring all students and staff to have ID cards, and require schools to submit emergency policies to the state for review.
“This is only one piece of a larger puzzle,” she said. “School safety across the country has not only become necessary, but it’s a priority.”
The committee did not vote on the Republican bill package.
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