More school safety measures in the works in Edison

EDISON —  Representatives of the Edison School District first approved to have armed police officers at each school and now they will focus on additional measures to ensure the safety of every student in the district.

Superintendent Richard O’Malley said making sure every student is safe is the scariest role he plays as superintendent. And in a sobering discussion with parents at a Board of Education meeting on Feb. 26, O’Malley, a father of three, was brutally honest after parent after parent asked how the district would protect each child and prevent a mass shooting like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, where a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people.

“I can sit here and tell you, I don’t know how,” O’Malley said. “With all the craziness in the world, to be honest with you, I can’t protect every child every day. It is the scariest thing and I’m not asking for any sympathy, but I’m asking you to try to understand, how do I protect every child in every building, 17,000 kids, without doing the best I can for both prevention, protection and all those things that go along with it?”

O’Malley said the district, which is the fifth largest school district in the state, is trying to do everything it can, just like every school in America, to make sure officials provide the best security they can for the children and staff.

“Everything is not perfect, it’s never going to be perfect, but we need to start somewhere,” he said. “We need to say, ‘Enough is enough’ and we need to start saying, ‘This is how we are going to protect our kids,’ that’s the issue. I rather have this forum now and talk about these things and how to make things better than have it later on, God forbid that something happens. These [suggestions] are important for us because we need to know, but we can’t do everything. We can only do as much as we can the best way we know how given the best information, whether it’s from law enforcement, parents or from our teachers. We’re all going through this together. We want to work together.”

O’Malley said the best answer right now in addressing school safety is placing a police officer at every school, which the board approved at the meeting. The officers are currently patrolling the 19 school buildings, grounds and facilities and will do so through June 20.

He said there is a current proposal to implement vestibules at the front entrances of the schools, providing an additional buffer to enter the schools.

O’Malley said the district is working to implement an anonymous app and hotline for any safety security and bullying reports.

“This is funded partially by our insurance company,” he said.

O’Malley said the message goes to a central monitoring system — a human being — that receives all reports on the tip line/app and the person will filter reports to the right personnel in the school district. The cost of the app/hotline is $4,200 a year.

The superintendent said the district will look at locks and hardware of doors.

“I had the opportunity to sit with the superintendent who just retired from the Newtown Public Schools [Janet Robinson] and the value and insight she’s had over the past couple years is some of the best professional development I’ve had,” he said.

In 2014, a 20-year-old man fatally shot 20 children as well as six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

“One thing I took away is she said, ‘If I can tell you anything, just make sure your classroom doors are locked’ and we do that, but one of the things we are looking at is 90 percent of our doors don’t lock from the inside.”

O’Malley said in Parkland, some of the teachers were shot attempting to lock the doors, which locked from the outside.

He said the district is also looking at putting a phone in every classroom.

The superintendent said the district provides many programs for mental health, which he said need to be communicated better with the public. He said they will consider training teachers to recognize mental health issues among students.

“These initiatives are all-encompassing,” he said. “We will have this as an ongoing matter on our agenda and make sure this is not forgotten in five weeks. We will continue to be vigilant and follow up.”

Board President Jerry Shi said School Safety Committee members Richard Brescher, Shannon Peng and Ralph Errico will sit on a committee with Police Chief Thomas Bryan; Michael Schwarz, president of PBA Local 75; Jeff Bowden, president of the Edison Township Education Association; Township Council President Ajay Patil; and Mahesh Baghia, special assistant to Mayor Thomas Lankey to work on short term and long-term suggestions.

He said as an outcome of a suggestion from the public, a subcommittee can be formed with faculty and students to discuss school safety and suggestions from the subcommittee will be considered in the school safety committee.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.