High school students across the country have planned a walkout from school on Wednesday March 14, at 10 a.m., and local districts are making provisions for it. The walkout is part of a national protest to raise awareness about gun violence, after the Feb. 14 mass killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The protest will last 17 minutes in remembrance of the 17 victims.
According to Hoboken Schools Superintendent Christine Johnson, officials from the Hoboken School District, met with parents and the local Police Department to ensure they had protocols in place.
“As a district we philosophically understand people have the right to assemble, and they have the right to express themselves,” said Johnson.
She said the New Jersey Department of Education has provided guidance to school districts in regard to such events.
The district has distributed preauthorization forms for parents who want to let students leave school. The district will accept them until Monday, March 12. The form says the students’ parent or guardian will be responsible for them during the walkout.
“It is just like if they were going to sign them out for a dentist appointment,” said Johnson.
Students over the age of 18 do not need to have such a form filled.
She also said students at the high school may be planning an indoor activity during that time because they recognize the security concerns.
The police will be given a breakdown of how many students are participating from each school.
Johnson said that the school’s guidance counselors and social workers have created “mini-age appropriate lessons about peaceful interactions” for the students. “They are not directly connected to the tragedy in Parkland but they are all centered around the idea of a period of peace.”
She added, “It would be naive of us to think that students who see their classmates leaving won’t ask any questions.”
She said the teachers have been trained to refer questions to parents, as not all have chosen to discuss the Parkland shootings with their children.
District wide security
Johnson said after the Parkland shootings, the district reviewed their current security protocols and policies.
Classroom doors are now locked during class time. Johnson this has always been a recommendation from the New Jersey Department of Education, and the district reminded teachers of this recently.
She said one of the things they reviewed was whether the district needed additional cameras. They discussed other products on the market such as technology that would allow classrooms to have the ability to notify officials if there is a classroom under distress or attack.
Johnson said the schools and police will conduct an active shooter drill together later in the year. The schools already conduct lockdown drills and shooter drills.
She said the district has four SROs, School Resource Officers, who are armed police officers who rotate to specific school buildings depending on activities scheduled for the day. She said they also discussed the possibility of adding additional SRO officers and that they are currently exploring whether they should have one in each building.
The district also has security personnel at each school, 18 people in total who are not armed.
She said the district is also looking to perhaps bring in a consultant to do advanced security training of their staff on an ongoing basis.
Nearby, the West New York and Secaucus schools decided two weeks ago to add armed officers to every school. Other districts have not.
“As a district we philosophically understand people have the right to assemble.” –Dr. Christine Johnson
Regarding next week, Police Chief Ken Ferrante said, “We have huge security concerns from a law enforcement standpoint due to the nature of a nationwide walkout. It puts a burden on law enforcement.”
Ferrante said one concern is that some people may use the walkout as a distraction.
He said that even before Parkland, the Police Department has been concerned with mass shootings – particularly after the San Bernardino attack in December 2015 in which 14 people were killed in a mass shooting at a non-profit organization. After that, the department got an Emergency Services Unit.
He added that the police hold drills for active shooter situations, eight times as often as the state mandate.
He also said he believes gun restrictions have helped “100 percent” in keeping citizens safer from gun violence.
Ferrante said that New Jersey doesn’t allow the purchase of assault weapons such as semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic shotguns, and requires a psychological background check for those wishing to obtain a gun license.
“We receive 10 to 20 applications per week for gun licenses, and I think we’ve only knocked down two or three applicants in the past four years,” he said, “so it’s not like the state is restricting people from the Second Amendment or from owning firearms.”
City Hall safety
According to Business Administrator Stephen Marks, since San Bernardino, the city has undergone security changes at City Hall to ensure the safety of the employees and residents.
City Hall installed a metal detector for the municipal court years ago, but moved it to the main entrance, and last December, the city purchased a second metal detector for the basement level entrance of the building.
Marks said the city has also purchased scanner wands such as those used by TSA, and has upgraded the radio and telephone systems.
He said they are also looking into adding more security cameras to the building.
In January, the city unanimously approved a contract for $26,800 for bulletproof desks.
Police Chief Ken Ferrante said that the desks were recommended by a federal Homeland Security task force.
Police said that Mayor Ravi Bhalla received threats after his election made nationwide news in November (see last week’s cover story at https://tinyurl.com/fakevsfacts).
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.