EDISON — Armed police officers will patrol the 19 school buildings in the Edison School District through the end of the school year.
After more than four hours of discussion, the Board of Education unanimously voted in favor of a resolution reflecting a shared service agreement with the township to hire off-duty township police officers, who would be uniformed and armed, to patrol the school buildings, grounds and facilities, at a board meeting on Feb. 26.
The officers will be paid $40 per hour and the township would waive any administrative fee.
The Edison Township School District is committed to providing its students and staff members with a safe, secure environment in which to learn and work, the resolution states.
The board acknowledges the serious impact upon the local community of the numerous recent tragic events involving incidents of gun violence in schools, including the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 where a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people.
Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley said his number one priority is student safety.
“Our bold initiative is to put an armed police officer at every school,” he said. “We asked the police department to put a very large initiative into place quickly and in a timely manner.”
And within a weekend, O’Malley said Police Chief Thomas Bryan and his administration worked feverishly to put a comprehensive plan in place to support the district’s initiative.
Police Captain Joseph Shannon will act as the director of security for the district and supervise the officers assigned to patrol the district’s buildings, grounds and facilities.
Shannon will provide training for each building administrator with respect to safety protocols and the implementation of consistent lockdown, active shooter and evacuation drills in the district and will work with the superintendent to develop and implement safety measures designed to improve and enhance security in the district.
O’Malley said the district is utilizing emergency reserve funds, which is allowed through a bill signed by former Gov. Chris Christie, allowing districts to set up $1 million as a maximum amount as an emergency reserve for school safety measures.
The cost of hiring armed police officers at the school buildings, effective Feb. 26 through June 20, is $620,000, he said.
O’Malley said a uniformed officer will be at the two high schools at 7 a.m. until the last student leaves, which is roughly 11 p.m.
The officers at the middle schools will be at the schools from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“It depends on the activities, sometimes it’s earlier,” O’Malley said.
At the elementary/preschool buildings, there will be a police officer during arrival and dismissal times.
The board received many school security suggestions, including metal detectors, bulletproof windows and vestibules in the school entrances, from the public at the meeting.
Some parents supported the district’s initiative; however, some parents said they felt uneasy having an armed police officer at the schools.
“I want to reiterate … police officers are the good guys and we are putting them at the door,” O’Malley said. “They are our parents, our graduates; they are our moms and dads. They are not strangers to our kids and to our staff.”
He noted the police officers will not necessarily be involved in school-related disciplinary matters.
“Obviously there are exceptions to those rules if security is concerned,” he said.
O’Malley said the resolution is the district’s first recommendation to address school security concerns and many additional security implementations will follow.
“Putting an armed police officer in the schools in the beginning is a good step for the protection [of the schools],” he said. “We have to do a lot with prevention.”
O’Malley said the community should feel very fortunate for the opportunity to reset school security and reassess how to do things better.
“There are some communities that have to deal with seeing the horror of these things and don’t necessarily have that option,” he said.
Police Chief Thomas Bryan, who attended the meeting, said his department, the school district and the township share the same goal with the parents.
“We want our kids to be safe,” he said, noting he went through the Edison school system and is a John P. Stevens High School graduate.
Bryan said he can guarantee the alleged delay in action at the Florida school would not happen if an incident happened in one of Edison’s schools.
“We are responding and we will eliminate the threat … I can guarantee you that,” he said.