By Chris Rotolo |
OCEANPORT – A school shooting in Florida followed by an emotional Board of Education meeting have brought school safety concerns to the conversational forefront in Oceanport, and Councilman Steve Solan wants to take action.
“I have two kids in our schools. One in Wolf Hill Elementary and the other in the Maple Place School. So anything that can be done to increase school safety I am all for looking into it,” Solan said.
The tragic gun violence event that claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month continues to resonate in the borough, after overwhelming public opposition led the Board of Education to remove the former Commvault building – located a 2 Crescent Place – from consideration for the site of a new $30 million school complex.
Rather than pursuing a more modern facility that meets modern security standards – like the one located on Crescent Place – Oceanport and Sea Bright students will remain in “unfit buildings for at least another two to three years,” according to School Board President Michelle McMulllin, who addressed the capacity crowd that gathered at the Feb. 21 board meeting.
A presentation delivered on Jan. 24 – when the ex-Commvault facility was selected as the best of three proposed options – revealed that Oceanport’s current schools lacked intruder-protective entrances approved by the Department of Homeland Security, a safety concern that has Solan investigating new ways to address the matter.
One option Solan says he will pursue is to have armed police officers stationed inside the borough’s schools, as the councilman hopes to take advantage of a bill signed in 2016 by former Gov. Chris Christie allowing armed, retired cops to provide security in our schools.
“I think this is a very reasonable way to approach the issue,” Solan said. “The resources at a state level are there and I’m going to be scheduling a meeting very soon with our superintendent, Tom Farrell, to discuss it further.” Solan said. “I don’t think there’s any reason why we shouldn’t be looking to take advantage of that situation.”
Along with Farrell, Solan will be inviting the borough’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Mauro “Buzz” Baldanza, as well as Oceanport Chief of Police Michael P. Kelly, who issued a statement to residents on March 2 addressing the safety of local schools, and his department’s response and tactical training.
“The well-being of your children, who you entrust to our care, is our most important responsibility,” Kelly said. “The Oceanport Police Department is trained, prepared and ready to respond to any incident in a quick and decisive manner. Officers are all trained in Active Shooter Response and mitigation. We are continuously training with surrounding jurisdictions and we re-evaluate our tactics and response to any situation that may occur in our schools.”
Kelly went on describe his officers’ daily regimen of school patrols, stating that officers are on-site at both Wolf Hill Elementary and the Maple Place School each day during the arrival and dismissal of students, and complete mandatory “hallway walks” multiple times a day. There are also three D.A.R.E. officers who are present in the schools while teaching their drug-awareness curriculum.
Though Kelly has assured police presence at Oceanport’s local schools, Solan remains adamant that having a full-time Class III officer on-site should be a standard operating procedure, and is placing the burden on him and his peers on Borough Council and the Board of Education to develop a plan to fund the positions.
“The biggest thing is figuring out how to pay for such an officer, but the good thing is there are no benefits involved because these are retired officers. It’s really just an hourly position. So whether it’s all paid for by the Board of Education, or it’s a shared cost with the police department, it’s something that needs to be discussed.”
Solan hopes that with the discussion about school safety continuing, so will talks about how to upgrade the facilities at Wolf Hill and Maple Place.
“I’ve done several walk-throughs, as has Chief Kelly, and there are safety upgrades that can be made immediately. Will they cost money? Absolutely. But I don’t think they will break the bank. These are necessities that need to find their way into the budget,” said Solan.
“I know the school board has had its hands full talking about this school project. But other facets of our schools should not be lacking because of a lack of attention. I’m not saying that’s what happened, but sometimes things fall through the cracks and unfortunately it takes a tragic event to bring things back to light, when they should have been at the forefront the entire time.”
This article was first published in the March 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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