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1-16-15 Education Issues, Task Forces...In the News

NJ Spotlight - WHAT HAS SCHOOL SECURITY TASK FORCE BEEN DOING FOR THE PAST TWO YEARS? One of three specially-appointed state panels that still haven’t issued reports, it is just now having its first public hearings… ‘Two other task forces appointed by Gov. Chris Christie -- one to review the state’s testing system, another to look at the contentious topic of special education -- have shown little in the way of results, at least in public.

Both task forces were charged to issue interim reports by the end of last year, but so far, nothing has been released. Nevertheless, both task forces have been meeting, and members of each say that reports are coming in the next month…’



The latest example is a school-security task force created two years ago that is just now holding public hearings.

And that panel is one of at least three separate task forces at work on education topics: the state’s testing system, its special education services, and school safety.

But so far, none have issued any reports and two of them have missed deadlines for interim reports.

The frustration is simmering. The latest example came yesterday, when state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) opened the Assembly education committee’s meeting by complaining that the school security task force was just beginning public hearings.

“Folks, this isn’t politics, this is our kids,” said Diegnan, who chairs the Assembly committee. “We all know what is going on in Paris right now, and there are solutions out there … But we’re waiting for direction.”

Diegnan said the Legislature had held back from mandating further security precautions in schools, but will move forward this winter if more wasn’t forthcoming from the Christie administration.

“If we don’t have a resolution by the end of February, I will recommend that we put a package of bills to deal with it on our own,” he said.

Afterward, Diegnan acknowledged that he can’t force action from the task force, but he hoped he could at least prod some progress.

“I just want to catch their attention,” he said. “C’mon, it’s been two years.”

This state of inactivity is hardly novel. Two other task forces appointed by Gov. Chris Christie -- one to review the state’s testing system, another to look at the contentious topic of special education -- have shown little in the way of results, at least in public.

Both task forces were charged to issue interim reports by the end of last year, but so far, nothing has been released. Nevertheless, both task forces have been meeting, and members of each say that reports are coming in the next month.

The testing task force is especially topical, as debate continues over the extent of testing in the state’s public schools and the new online exams coming this spring aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

The creation of the testing task force was a central piece of Christie’s compromise last summer, which scaled back the use of test results when evaluating teachers and schools.

Christie, in his regular “Ask the Governor” segment on 101.5 FM radio last night, said the task force would be holding hearings later this month. He acknowledged the growing protests over new testing, but didn’t back down from the administration’s intent to press ahead.

“We’re going to have a series of public hearings at the end of the month to hear from the public before they make a decision,” he said.

The governor said he has some questions about the new Common Core standards that are driving the tests -- a big national issue for a potential presidential candidate -- but he was vague to the specifics.

Still, Christie said that the assessments remain a critical component in his administration’s commitment to determining student progress. “There is going to be some type of testing, we need to gauge where students are,” he said.

The special education task force is also important to advocates; one of the issues it's looking at is how special education services are funded by the state.

The administration isn't saying much about the status of any of these groups, with the state Department of Education’s press office yesterday referring questions to the governor’s office. Requests for comment from the governor’s office were not returned.


Press of Atlantic City - Armed officers should be in schools, security panel told

Posted: Thursday, January 15, 2015 5:45 pm

By DIANE D’AMICO, Education Writer

Properly trained security officers, with guns, could help prevent a tragedy in a school, several speakers told members of the New Jersey School Security Task Force at a public hearing at Richard Stockton College on Wednesday night.

Only a handful of people attended the hearing, and written comments may also be submitted. Those who did attend said the first five minutes of a crisis are crucial, and in South Jersey, with its large, sprawling townships, it is likely to take longer for police to arrive.

“An armed officer can stop a threat immediately,” said Robert Stevens, of Galloway Township, a retired Bridgeton police officer who worked with that city’s schools.

Arthur Faden, a retired police officer who now works as a school resource and attendance officer in Hamilton Township, said he has seen a lot more security planning since the Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings, but if there were an incident locally, it could take time for police to respond.

The police are always on calls, and it’s a big township,” he said. He said he knows there are concerns about the liability of having an armed person in schools, but it could be critical in an emergency.

“If there’s a bad guy with a gun, it’s critical to have a good guy with a gun on campus,” he said.

Some school districts have police officers assigned to the schools who do carry guns, but school security personnel generally don’t. Faden said having special Level III officers could be an option.

One recommendation from a New Jersey School Boards Association school security report released in October was to create a new category of Level III officer with specialized school training.

Task force members said the issue of armed security is one of the most controversial suggestions they are addressing.

“This is a bone of contention statewide,” said Charles McKenna, of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. “There are strong feelings pro and con.”

Dr. Paul Kosten, the school psychologist in Ventnor, said he would like to see more coordination between law enforcement and schools to get troubled students the mental health services they need to help avert a crisis.

“I know there are confidentiality issues,” he said. “But this would protect a school and let us follow through with mental-health support.”

He said there also should be more mental health resources beyond schools to help troubled students and their families.

James Dietrich, a retired Lower Township police officer who has worked in schools, agreed there should be more attention to mental-health issues. He also supported having armed security on site.

“How many (people) can we lose in the first five minutes?” he said. “That’s the only time (security) is a real benefit. Once the police arrive, they take over.”

Dietrich said retired officers could be employed as school security and have experience with weapons.

“There’s a lot of controversy about retired officers carrying guns in schools, but we should support that effort,” he said. “Retired officers have experience, they are familiar with the city and schools, and you can get them at a fraction of the cost” of a police officer, he said.

Task force member James Smith, director of school security in Paterson, said there are others on the task force who share that view.

Retired Lower Township police Chief Brian Marker said he would like to see a standard response protocol among districts. He said making codes and lockdown procedures similar in all schools would help students, staff and first responders

Faden also said he would like to have a way for schools to directly communicate with police dispatch, especially in an emergency.

Smith said they have a separate school channel in Paterson, and that is an issue the task force is discussing.

Ben Costello, of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of School Preparedness, said the task force report is due in March.


Contact Diane D’Amico:



@ACPressDamico on Twitter

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