Monroe students offer opinions on school safety initiatives

KATHY CHANG/STAFF

MONROE — Only one out of the four students who participated in the School Safety Common Sense Gun Reform Forum last week said she feels safer with armed police officers in the schools.

Hanna Touri, who is president of her senior class at Monroe Township High School, said she was concerned with the unknown situation.

“What if a student caught the officer off guard and got a hold of the weapon? … You never know,” she said.

Senior Lexi Aulbach shared similar concerns.

“Things always happen,” she said regardless of how well trained an officer or armed security guard is. “What if things get out of hand during a fight and a gun is pulled and someone loses their life?”

The students shared their opinions as panelists in the forum, sponsored by Indivisible of Monroe Township on April 23 at the Monroe Township Senior Center.

Indivisible of Monroe is one of 6,000 affiliates nationwide dedicated to effecting change through legislative advocacy, education and community outreach, according to the organization. The Monroe chapter is comprised of more than 300 members.

The panelists included Police Chief Michael Lloyd and Lt. Lisa Robinson; Schools Superintendent Michael Kozak; Rachel Outram of the Moms Demand Action chapter in Middlesex County; and Monroe Township High School seniors Aisha Malik, Pranav Mallampalli, Hanna and Lexi.

On Feb. 21, Mayor Gerald W. Tamburro and Lloyd announced an interim plan for the placement of off-duty Monroe police officers to provide full-time protection to supplement current district security teams during a Board of Education meeting.

The township is bearing the expense of the officers under the temporary plan. The sworn officers are working in addition to normal patrols.

The township school board is currently working to amend its present policy to permit current security staff, many of whom are retired law enforcement officers, to assume the armed detail in the near future.

On Feb. 20, school officials held a public forum in the wake of a school shooting on Feb. 14, where a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

A common suggestion from parents and the public was to place armed security guards in the school buildings.

“I was shocked,” Lloyd said at the forum. “That’s what the constituents wanted.”

Lloyd, who has 30 years of law enforcement experience, said historically an intruder is looking for soft targets and having armed security guards would reduce the likelihood of a mass shooting.

He said his 59 sworn officers are fully equipped and fully trained and the goal is to stop the threat as soon as possible. The chief also noted the law states when an officer can and cannot pull a gun.

Robinson, who has 21 years of law enforcement experience, echoed the sentiments of the chief.

“We do train for [active shooter] situations and take the training seriously,” she said. “We don’t take it as a joke and we understand we can be injured in those situations.”

Pranav said he was not adverse to the armed security presence at Monroe Township High School.

“There is no significant vetting system on who enters the school,” he said. “With an armed guard, there is some barrier from an assailant.”

Kozak said the discussion on having armed security guards or off duty police officers in the schools is an emotional topic.

“Officers are trained with or without weapons,” he said. “I trust their training and training inside a school is very different with students and minors.”

Along with armed security guards, students shared their opinions on lockdown/shelter-in-place drills in the schools. The students said they feel many of their peels do not take the drills seriously.

“It’s a joke,” Hanna said, suggesting the school district conduct mock active shooter drills. “The [drills] are not taken seriously anymore and God forbid something would happen to us, we need to know what the safest route is out of the building. … There are millions of exits.”

Hanna suggested offering self-defense classes for students.

Aisha said she agreed with Hanna, and said she feels shelter-in-place drills similar to fire drills are unrealistic.

Lexi suggested drills in between classes and during lunch.

“Usually the drills are when we are in class,” she said. “When the bell rings, where do we go to be safe?”

Kozak noted the student suggestions and ideas. He said he did caution the potential for psychological impact with mock active shooter drills.

The superintendent said he was honored and privileged to be a participant in the forum along with “bright and thoughtful” students from Monroe Township High School.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.