By: Jaclyn Kotora, Editorial Staff (‘23)
December 14, 2022, marked the 10th anniversary of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, a gunman shot and killed 26 people—20 children and 6 adults. According to K-12 Dive, 2022 saw the most school shootings in history, with approximately 300 shooting incidents on school grounds. Firearms are now the number one cause of death for children in the United States, overtaking car accidents, diseases, and other causes of fatality. With such a violent uptake in schools, one can only wonder how our school district prepares and handles threats to the student body, and the district policies regarding school safety.
The Safety Council of the Ramapo Indian Hills Regional High School District, made up of teachers, nurses, administrators, building security, transportation, and facility staff members, meets every other month to review and act on pertinent issues related to school safety. In addition, the Board of Education directs close cooperation with District officials and law enforcement to regulate the security of the schools.
According to district policy 8420 – Emergency and Crisis Situations (M), “The Board of Education recognizes its responsibility to provide for the safety and security in each school building in the district. The district will develop and implement comprehensive written plans, procedures, and mechanisms to provide for the protection of health, safety, security, and welfare of the school population; the prevention of, intervention in, response to, and recovery from emergency and crisis situations; the establishment and maintenance of a climate of civility; and support services for staff, students, and their families.”
Such preventive measures include providing in-service training programs for district employees to educate them in handling safety concerns and crises. Also, the district is required to have concrete plans, procedures, mechanisms, and drills to prepare for security issues and emergencies. The district policy requires the building principal to review incidents for accuracy and report them to the Superintendent. Twice each school year, the Superintendent is then required to report to the Board at a public meeting all incidents during the corresponding reporting period.
In terms of within the school, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 18A:7G-5.2b.(15), “propping open doors to buildings on school grounds is strictly prohibited and students and staff shall not open a door for any individual.” By adhering to this measure, students and staff can prevent outsiders from entering the building and posing threats to the students. However, sometimes these rules are not fully enforced, even innocently holding the door open for someone can be inviting a potential threat into the facility. It is disheartening that this attitude of distrust is necessary, as one has to question the motives of every individual they encounter for safety.
Every threat to the school or anyone inside must be taken seriously and investigated according to the procedures of the district, no matter how accurate one suspects the potential threat to be. Reportedly, on December 13, 2022, one day before the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, there was a potential shooting threat made by a student at Indian Hills High School. The school was made aware of such a threat beforehand and investigated the issue thoroughly to examine how valid the threat was. An anonymous source shared that the situation was handled accordingly, and there was no viable threat to the school, thus it can be assumed that is why the student body and parents were not contacted.
However, even though there was no clear and present danger to the students, law enforcement was still contacted and rumors circulated amongst worried parents and students. Although it is understandable that the administration did not want to cause chaos and panic by advising people of a doubtful/false threat, rumors spread like wildfire and were amplified by anxiety.
Words circulated amongst the FLOW district without direct guidance can cause even more problems. Even if the danger was not real, the student body and their families have the right to know if there could be a potential threat to their well-being. Especially when people are aware of such events, if people do not have the facts, false rumors start going around about the situation and criticisms of the administration arise. Therefore, one can argue that it would have been better to let the people know of the investigation to squash false ideas and ease the anxieties of the community. Instead, the Administration chose not to address the issue publicly and resolved the situation quietly while assuring the few individuals that contacted about the circumstances that the safety of the school body was secure.
As stated before, the district no doubt handled the situation in a controlled, lawful, and mature manner. However, especially due to current events, a certain level of open communication must be maintained no matter how feasible a threat is. District policy 9200 – COOPERATION BETWEEN PARENTS AND SCHOOL states, “The Board of Education believes that the education of children is a joint responsibility that the Board shares with the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of students. To ensure that the best interests of the child are served in this process, a strong program of communication between home and school must be maintained.” Simply issuing an email blast to the community that there was a reported incident and it was fully resolved would fulfill the responsibility of the school and demonstrate their leadership, efficiency, accountability, and respect toward the local community.
Students and parents remain hopeful that in the future the Administration would continue to be transparent to the high school communities about the happenings within the school, as well as continue to enforce and uphold its policies to ensure the safety of the students and staff. To potentially prevent other devastating incidents like the Sandy Hook, Uvalde, Columbine, Parkland, and Santa Fe shootings, it is essential to report suspicious observations to law enforcement or the administration, no matter how important it may think it is—who knows, you could save a life.