”You can’t anticipate when a horrible event might happen, but you must be prepared,” said Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan in reaction to the horrible slaughter of kindergarteners and others in Connecticut on Dec. 14.
Although Bayonne no longer has its Cops in Schools program due to cutbacks in federal funding, McGeehan said the district has a very close working relationship with the police and fire departments, allowing for quick response in the event of any emergency. Each school is equipped with basic security measures, including front door cameras and buzz-in systems.
“We are going to review what we do and make it better after this,” McGeehan said.
Bayonne High School, with its labyrinth of halls and multiple levels, might have posed a challenge for public safety but unlike other schools, the police have two officers permanently assigned there so that they are very familiar with the byways. The police juvenile division also has its office there.
“The police assigned to the high school also carry our radios so that they know what is going on around the school all the time,” McGeehan said.
While McGeehan said she regrets the loss of the Cops in Schools program that had police officers in every school, she said training of teachers and easy access to public safety officials provide a good level of additional security.
“With police at the high school, we do not have to wait for a response,” she said. “They are there if we need them. In other communities, it might take ten to 15 minutes before help arrives.”
Bayonne schools comply with state homeland security plans, she said, with local school officials meeting regularly with security officials to maintain security levels at the schools.
Public Safety Director Jason O’Donnell said that the police department and school district had already scheduled a meeting to discuss establishing an emergency response center at the school garage on Juliet Street to handle such situations.
This meeting, McGeehan said, will take on more relevance after the events in Connecticut.
“Our schools have a very good relationship with the police and fire departments,” McGeehan said. “We know we can reach them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
“We are going to review what we do and make it better after this.” – Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan
She said school security will be reviewed with the aim of looking for possible ways to improve it. She said staff from custodians to principals is vigilant in keeping the schools safe.
“We train our principals on safety and they share this information with their teachers,” McGeehan said.
While newer schools like Midtown Community School have the latest in technology, all the schools have cameras at the front door and staff is trained to ask appropriate questions of people trying to gain access.
“We hold active shooting training exercises,” McGeehan said. “We had one two weeks ago.”
Schools in Bayonne have both fire and safety drills, more even than are required by state mandates. “Every situation is different. So depending on what is happening, we may call for evacuation, lockdown or shelter. There is no cookie-cutter plan. Once the police come into the school, we turn it over to them. But our whole team is directed towards keeping everybody safe.”
Exercises for safety can include everything from practicing a table top routine to a full gear routine, during which times school and public safety officials look over what is done and how to improve it. School officials have also observed similar exercises at IMTT, which holds security drills on a regular basis.
“We’re very much on top of things,” she said. “None of this is really new.”
Security can include people who come to pick up kids from school. She said each school has a list of people who are authorized to pick up a child. If someone comes to the school who is not on the list, school officials call one of the responsible parties to make verify.
She said security involves training all the staff, and regular emergency exercises so that a response is not a surprise and people know what to do in case a situation emerges.
“We work to do the best we can to be prepared,” McGeehan said.