In the aftermath of the recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, parents and community members have expressed their concerns about how the Jefferson Township school district is keeping its students safe.
In a post on the Facebook group Jefferson Township Moms and Dads, many parents raised their concerns about the vulnerability of Jefferson schools. “Why is it so easy to get into our schools?” asked Donna Michelle, mother of a Jefferson student. “I’ve gone to pick up my son at Briggs and Stanlick and the doors are wide open at times.”
The comments on her post were mixed, with some parents describing similar experiences while others indicated that they have always needed to check in before proceeding into the building. Some parents believe that even the buzzing-in system is not enough. “I’ve always had to be buzzed in … but honestly, I’m not sure how that really helps. All a ‘bad guy’ has to do is hit the button and they unlock the door,” said Ashley Ryan, reflecting the feelings of many other parents.
In later posts and comments, parents offered opinions on how to safeguard the schools and their children. Ideas ranged from training teachers and hiring more security guards to locking all doors except one and installing a metal detector.
Eric Wilsusen, a parent and Republican candidate for mayor, tried to ease other parents’ concerns. “The district, in coordination with the police and emergency services, run lock down, active shooter drills, and training throughout the year, and they have been doing so for many years.” He added that it is not the job of the police and the district only to keep students safe. Parents “need to be concerned and vigilant” at all times, and if anyone “shows mental health issues, it has to get reported to school or law enforcement officials to be investigated.”
Vanessa Walsh supported Wilsusen’s view. “We all train and practice and take every precaution we can. There is only so much we can do. Schools are not fortresses and teachers are not trained police officers or military personnel. Until we address the actual problem, none of us are safe.”
Many parents formed a consensus around Colleen Reardon’s comments, posted a few days after the shooting. “It’s easy to point fingers, blame someone else, tell someone else they are not doing enough, and act as if we all don’t have accountability,” she stated. “We all have ideas and viewpoints worth hearing. We just need to do it in a manner that helps, not fuels, the situation. Let’s start by respecting one another and recognize that it is going to take several different actions owned by all of us to improve and limit risk.”
As the issue of school security began to cool down, local news sparked more fear and heightened these concerns.
During the 2016-2017 school year, weapons were found in 578 New Jersey schools. Five of those weapons were found in Jefferson Township High School.
Less than a week after the shooting in Parkland, The Jefferson Chronicle and other news outlets covered two separate incidents of a high school and middle school student threatening township schools. Both threats were investigated and determined to be non-credible.
Jefferson schools were not alone in receiving threats following the mass shooting. State police arrested a High Point student who allegedly threatened to carry out an act of violence. In Vernon, a high school senior made threats and was later found with a weapon in his car.
In response to these concerns, Assistant Superintendent Jeanne Howe sent an email to all parents in the district.
She first addressed the incidents at the high school and middle school, explaining that the administration and police department launched a full investigation immediately after the threats were reported. Both students have been determined “to pose no active threat to the school,” and the schools are working with them and their families to get the help they need.
Regarding school security procedures, “all staff and students were trained in ALICE [Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate], a program developed to give staff and students protocols to respond to possible emergency situations.” She further explained that the schools practice a variety of emergency drills each month and that the “district safety team regularly meets to continue to refine our practice to help safeguard our students.”
The district has many security precautions in place as well. Each school has a security surveillance system and the middle and high schools have hall monitors, some of whom are retired police officers. The district continues to “work collaboratively with the Jefferson Township Police Department” and hold the safety of the students first and foremost.
The police issued many public notices to assure residents that the schools are kept safe. “The Jefferson Township Police Department performs daily safety checks, monthly and random student and faculty drills at all schools town wide, regular risk assessments and constant contact with school administration and officials.” They “continually monitor and investigate all matters which could pose a threat” to the community as well.
Detective Joseph Kratzel told The Chronicle, “We cannot disclose any specific security measures, as this can be counterproductive, but rest assured that school security is continually discussed and evaluated. We have a great partnership with school officials and investigate all matters which could pose a threat to our community.”