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Security discussed as referendums loom over school district

Security within the Hillsborough Township Public School District’s nine schools was the focus of a presentation during the most recent board of education meeting, as officials rely on new assessments to determine what needs to be done in the future.

During the Oct. 29 meeting, Capt. John Marley of the New Jersey State Police Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (ROIC) shared details on his team’s recent evaluation of the district’s readiness in the event of an emergency.

In the wake of a mass shooting Saturday in a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead and injured six others, Marley said the district’s focus on security comes during an insecure time.

“There’s certainly the mindset and culture of some folks throughout the state that think ‘it’s never going to happen here,’ ‘this is ridiculous,’ ‘this is excessive’…we’ve seen a lot of crazy things happen throughout this country. No school district is immune from it,” he said. “This is the world we live in, so anything we can do to mitigate the threat of school violence…we want to do the best we can to prevent it.”

The presentation followed an executive session with district officials where Marley and his team provided a list of recommendations to bolster school security.

As the bureau chief of the state police’s ROIC, Marley said his team was one of 79 in the country. To help prevent potential threats before they happen, he said the New Jersey ROIC was been holding training sessions for local police departments to educate law enforcement officials in how they can find and address security problems in their respective school districts.

It was with that goal in mind that Marley said he and Hillsborough Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jorden Schiff agreed to collaborate for when the ROIC would visit Somerset County.

Through a “random encounter in Atlantic City” during the state superintendents’ annual conference, Marley said Schiff approached his team about potentially holding its training session at Hillsborough High School.

When it came time for the training session, police departments from throughout Somerset County came to Hillsborough to focus on the methodology of finding potential vulnerabilities in a school before taking a physical walk through the building.

“When we get out on a site…we have a pre-assessment meeting with administrators, teachers and staff to basically explain what we do,” Marley said. “We want the teachers and administrators to understand what it is we’re looking at, why it’s a vulnerability and what can be done to mitigate that vulnerability.”

Once the walk through is done, they take the information, identify the issues and offer methods to address vulnerabilities to school district officials.

“We don’t prioritize our recommendations based on a 1-100 scale, we identify the vulnerability, recommend the protective measure and then it’s up to the districts to make a determination of what they want to attack first,” Marley said.

The state ROIC eventually conducted assessments at all nine schools in the district, working with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and the Hillsborough Township Police Department along the way.

“This district is very proactive. Under Dr. Schiff’s leadership they’ve done great things here and they’ve done everything humanly possible to keep the children in this district safe day-to-day,” Marley said.

Security is bound to become a larger part of an ongoing discussion surrounding the district and a pair of referendums in the coming months.

With the first referendum vote slated to take place on March 12, 2019 in order to raise the tax levy above the state-mandated two percent cap in order to “address state aid reductions and maintain existing programs and class sizes,” it could be the second referendum later in the year that will address any vulnerabilities found by the ROIC.

Following Marley’s presentation, Schiff referred to the Pittsburgh shooting to emphasize the importance of ensuring the safety of the district’s students, staff and administration.

“This weekend, a man who was filled with hate and anti-Semitism walked into a temple and killed 11 people, harmed six others – four of them were law enforcement officials,” he said. “It strikes me every time I work with law enforcement that these are people who are trained to run towards the danger when the rest of us are running away.”

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