Spotswood officials, police address school security concerns

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SPOTSWOOD–Striving to inform the community about the school district’s protection procedures, the Spotswood District Safety Team and Spotswood Police Department recently sponsored a roundtable security discussion.

On Feb. 14, three staff members and 14 students were killed by an active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The aftermath of the Parkland shooting has sparked the nationwide student-led “Never Again” movement, which advocates for stricter gun laws.

The District Safety Team is comprised of law enforcement and district officials, which includes Spotswood High School Vice Principal and School Safety Specialist Michael Mastroserio; Superintendent Graham Peabody; School Resource Officer Sgt. Edward Schapley; Chief of Police Michael Zarro; Manager of Information Technology Timothy Cahill; Director of Curriculum and Instruction Selina Pewitt; Business Administrator Vita Marino; Board of Education President Dulce Branco-Rivera; and Coordinator for the Office of Emergency Management Jose Rivera.

“While we meet when needed, we definitely meet monthly so this team comes together to talk about and review all of our security procedures [and] have conversations. Most of those meetings are led by [Mastroserio],” Peabody said. 

More than 90 residents, which included parents, members of the police department, Borough Council members, teachers and students, attended the roundtable security discussion on March 12 at Spotswood High School.

Mastroserio presented a slideshow explaining the district’s current safety and security strategies for its four public schools.

The district’s comprehensive approach to security involves security coordination, communication and alerts, training and drills, and plan reviews and climate assessment, according to Mastroserio.

Mastroserio said the police department and the District Safety Team develop a school security plan that is reviewed and updated every year. The district’s teachers and staff are given a manual that explains what they are supposed to do in the event of an emergency.

The school security plan and staff manual is annually reviewed and sent to Middlesex County’s Superintendent of Schools Office, according to Mastroserio.

The district has a memorandum of agreement with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey Department of Education and the Spotswood Police Department, according to Mastroserio.

Mastroserio said the agreement “… gives us guidance on how we interact with police [and] how we report things in the event of a criminal act or something along those lines. … We also have a school resource officer who basically lives down the hallway from me. Schapley is a dependable resource; he is dedicated to the district and he does work with all the schools, all the principals and the administration.”

According to Mastroserio, the district has routine police patrols through the day and the mornings where officers routinely walk into the schools.

Mastroserio said the district has updated its phone and camera systems.

“Thanks to [Jose Rivera] we also worked on a radio system, which allows all of the administration throughout the district to communicate in the event of an emergency via email,” Mastroserio said. “[In] the event that there is a real emergency and we won’t be able to use our phone lines, we have that as a back line of communication so that we can communicate. It also has given us the ability to communicate further with the police department.”

At the high school, the district has installed a new lockdown system, which it hopes will be fully operational before the school year ends, according to Mastroserio. 

“We are hoping to get it up and running this next break that we are coming up on. The system will automatically send a signal to the police department, which will then get a response in the event of an emergency,” Mastroserio said. “It will also help staff and our students know that there is an emergency and that there is immediately going to be a lockdown and to secure themselves in a safe place. It is being installed in all of the buildings in the district.”

Each school has monthly fire drills as mandated by the state. The schools also have one monthly evacuation, lockdown, bomb evacuation or active shooter drill, according to Mastroserio.

Mastroserio said all the staff is trained on what to do in emergency situations. The staff has had active shooter training within the building by the police department and borough first responders.

Asking parents to help the district with keeping the schools safe, Mastroserio said, “When you are going into a building, I know a lot of times you will hold the door for someone; please don’t. It may seem rude, but you are not being rude. Make sure the door closes. Just because you got buzzed in doesn’t mean the next person will be cleared.”

Mastroserio said every visitor must have a photo identification and make an appointment before visiting a school. He said parents should talk to their children about their safety concerns and let the school know if they notice something unusual.

“What I see nationwide is [not] any kind of prevention, it’s all reactive. … Arming people, arming teachers – but there is no prevention,” Zarro said. “I hear very little about prevention [and] getting out in front of things, hearing things and acting on them. Even if they turn out to be nothing … if we get out in front of it, share that information, we can look into it and get ahead of things.” 

Zarro said the police department created a School Community Action Network (SCAN) where residents can get in direct contact with Schapley to report unusual or concerning behavior that may impact the borough’s schools.  

Schalpey said residents can report any type of school safety concern anonymously and that every reported concern will be investigated by the police department and the district.

However, if there is an emergency, residents should not use SCAN but instead dial 911, according to Zarro.

Residents expressed concerns about building accessibility, the schools’ use of security technology and the need for additional full-time SROs.

Spotswood Parent Teacher Association President Melissa Hallerman asked if the district is considering hiring armed SROs for each school or building vestibules at each of the school’s entrances. Mastroserio said building vestibules at the entrances is something the district is looking into.

Responding to Hallerman’s question about armed SROs, Zarro said, “I think realistically in 2018, moving forward, that is something that is going to be a part of everyday school life, I do. … There are mechanisms involved with that, there are budgetary considerations, training considerations, policy considerations, all can be done. To answer your question, I think absolutely that is coming, I don’t have a timeline when, but it’s coming.”

On election days, the district allows residents to vote at G. Austin Schoenly Elementary School and E. Raymond Appleby Elementary School, according to Mastroserio. After residents voiced concerns about changing the special events policy for the schools, Mastroserio said he would speak with schools’ principals about residents having access to the schools during certain events.

For more information about SCAN, contact Schapley at or call 732-416-1861.

Contact Vashti Harris at

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