Investing in the safety of N.J. students and teachers

Investing in the safety of N.J. students and teachers

Governor Murphy allocates additional $5.97 million for statewide school security initiative

Katie Katz (TeachNJ)
Katie Katz (TeachNJ)

Last August, Governor Phil Murphy allocated $6.5 million of American Rescue Plan funds in a statewide school security initiative to collect and digitize school building blueprints. The goal aimed to help law enforcement personnel respond quickly to emergency situations in unfamiliar places.

At the time, New Jersey first responders had access to digital blueprints for approximately 1,500 of the state’s 3,000 public and private schools, according to a press release accompanying the governor’s announcement. The initiative was a reaction to the national epidemic of gun violence, both in and out of schools, and was intended to help law enforcement map the remaining 1,500 schools.

On November 30, 2022, Mr. Murphy signed bill S2426 into law. It requires all public and nonpublic schools in the state to submit critical incident mapping data of buildings and l grounds to local law enforcement authorities. Critical incident mapping data includes aerial images of schools; floor plans, including room and suite numbers; building access points; locations of hazardous materials and utility shut-offs, and any other relevant location information. The law takes effect in the upcoming school year.

Last week, the governor announced the allocation of an additional $5.97 million to these mapping efforts.

“In the case of a school shooting, or another security incident, having access to digital blueprints allows law enforcement to act much more swiftly and effectively, to have the confidence to be able to go very quickly into a building and to know the entire layout,” said Katie Katz, executive director of Teach NJ, an organization that advocates for New Jersey’s nonpublic school students. “But, of course, this crucial safety feature costs money.”

Teach NJ worked with the governor’s office over the last few months to ensure that nonpublic schools across the state would not be required to bear the cost of complying with this important new law, Ms. Katz said. “The schools we spoke to had already allocated the security funds they receive from the state to other crucial security measures, including security guards, cameras, and infrastructure like sensors or bollards, and were very concerned about where they would get the funds to comply with the new law.”

The organization has 26 member schools throughout the state but advocates for all nonpublic schools in New Jersey.

“This was not a law they were anticipating, and there are many other security expenses in schools, especially with the rising security needs,” Ms. Katz continued. “So we advocated for the state to provide the funding for the required mapping for both public and nonpublic schools.

“And we’re really thrilled that the governor announced this $5.79 million investment to make sure that the critical incident mapping protocol will be paid for in all the schools. Not only are the schools able to really remain safer, but they don’t have to be burdened with the added cost of it.”

The funds will be allocated to the New Jersey State Police, who will create the required digital mapping in the remaining schools and ensure consistent mapping across the state. They also will maintain the statewide database to ensure operational security of the data and provide access to first responders throughout New Jersey.

Once the blueprints for all school buildings and grounds are collected, local law enforcement personnel will conduct annual walkthroughs to ensure the mapping data is accurate and up to date.

The $5.79 million comes from remaining federal funding in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools appropriations and American Rescue Plan funds that must be used before the designated expiration dates.

“We applaud Governor Murphy, and we’re so thankful to him for making sure that every school community, including our Jewish day schools, and other nonpublic schools, is given the tools and the funding to be able to keep our children safe in school,” Ms. Katz said. “And this critical mapping can truly help save time and lives during a school shooting, or any other school emergency, and so we’re thrilled to see both the legislation pass, and the funding become available, to help keep our children safe.”

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