N.J. Law-Enforcement Officers to Inspect Schools for Safety

By Catherine Gewertz — January 25, 2005 2 min read

At the urging of the governor, New Jersey education leaders have joined with state and local law-enforcement officials in a plan to inspect every school in the state to make sure children are as safe as possible from potential terrorist attacks.

The joint effort was sparked by acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, who made school security the top education issue in his State of the State Address on Jan. 11. Two incidents helped forge that priority for the governor: the deadly hostage-taking at a Russian middle school last fall, and the October discovery of information about schools in two New Jersey districts on a CD-ROM in Iraq. (“Man Detained in Iraq With U.S. Guide on School Crisis Plans,” Oct. 6, 2004.)

Mr. Codey, a Democrat, pledged that all schools would be inspected by September.

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The state police will design and administer training for state and local law-enforcement officers who will conduct walk-throughs of all 4,400 public and private schools in the Garden State, said acting Lt. Douglas J. Heath, the supervisor of the state police department’s infrastructure-security unit.

Those visits are intended to produce an overall profile of the schools’ security practices and vulnerabilities, which will be used to develop specific security recommendations for each school, Lt. Heath said.

A spring forum planned for Rutgers University in New Brunswick is to provide more training and opportunities for dialogue for school leaders.

Detection and Prevention

Since the 1999 shootings at Colorado’s Columbine High School, schools in New Jersey have been required to draw up crisis-response plans. But the new program is aimed at detection of and prevention against attack, said Susan Martz, the director of the state department of education’s office of program services, which is overseeing the inspection program.

Teams will examine buildings and grounds for a wide range of security vulnerabilities, such as keeping all school doors unlocked or allowing bushes to serve as good hiding places, Ms. Martz said. Many improvements are possible with little training or cost, she said, especially posting a monitor at one main entry and keeping all other doors locked.

Comments from law-enforcement officials will offer school leaders a fresh, critical view, she said.

“There are many things we wouldn’t necessarily as educators think to look at when we think of the security of our facilities,” Ms. Martz said. “From law enforcement, you get a whole different perspective.”

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A version of this article appeared in the January 26, 2005 edition of Education Week as N.J. Law-Enforcement Officers to Inspect Schools for Safety