The Assembly Education Committee led by Chairman Patrick Diegnan (D-18) moved a comprehensive bill package aimed at enhancing school safety and security. The bill package – primarily sponsored by Chairman Diegnan – seeks to implement significant recommendations contained in the NJ School Security Task Force Report (July 2015). Recognizing the statewide priority of enhancing school security in our schools, NJPSA supported the proposed legislation impacting the public schools. NJPSA lobbying efforts were successful in obtaining significant amendments in two key areas – ensuring that the Legislature fully addressed any funding implications of the new requirements on local districts and bill language permitting local flexibility in the implementation process as needed.
The bill package contains the following legislation which now moves to either the Budget/Appropriations Committee if the bill contains fiscal concerns for the state or to the full Assembly for consideration, as appropriate:
Requires school buildings to be equipped with emergency light and panic alarm linked to law enforcement and provides state funding to districts through the proceeds of bonds authorized by the School Development Authority.
Under current law, school districts may increase their tax levies, with certain exceptions, by no more than two percent relative to the prior budget year. This bill provides that any annual increase in expenditures on school security costs in excess of two percent incurred by a school district will be excluded from the limit.
This bill provides that if a local district has at least one school in the district that is equipped with video surveillance equipment capable of streaming live video wirelessly to a remote location, the district must develop a local memorandum of understanding with law enforcement within 180 days of the bill’s enactment, to provide access to law enforcement. The local MOU will detail who shall be authorized to view live streaming video, the circumstances where access will be permitted and a detailed plan for preventing and detecting unauthorized access to live streaming video.
The legislation provides that a school district may use its emergency reserve fund to finance school security improvements, including improvements to school facilities. Under current law, a district may only withdraw money from the emergency reserve fund to pay the cost of unanticipated general fund current expense costs. The bill also provides that proceeds from bonds issued by the Economic Development Authority to finance the State’s school construction program may be used to fund school facilities projects related to improving school security. NJPSA supports the measure.
This bill establishes the NJ School Safety Specialist Academy within the NJ Department of Education to serve as a central organizational hub for school security issues including services as a training center and clearinghouse for best practices, training standards, prevention efforts and research on school security issues. Additionally, the bill requires the Superintendent to designate a school safety specialist at the district level to attend the training offered at the Academy and turn-key this training at the school building level as appropriate. NJPSA was successful in its efforts to gain amendments specifying that this required training will be free of charge to districts. .
This legislation requires that certain detailed school security measures be incorporated into the architectural design of new school construction and in the updating of existing buildings where possible. The bill was amended at NJPSA suggestion to provide flexibility as new best practice components in school security are developed in the future.
A-3349 (Diegnan) – Requires annual school security training for school employees to be conducted collaboratively with emergency responders; requires law enforcement officer to annually attend at least one school security drill.
This legislation makes certain positive changes to school security training requirements and school security drills. Specifically, the bill states that an actual fire or school security emergency that occurs at a school during a month which includes activities equivalent to a school security or fire drill can count as meeting the school fire or security drill required under current law. The bill also provides, reflective of current practice, that a law enforcement officer shal be present at a minimum of one school security drill during a school year in order to provide law enforcement recommendations on potential improvements to the school security drill procedures. The bill also expands the definition of a school security to include a bomb threat along with non-fire evacuations, lockdowns, or active shooter situations. Finally, the bill provides that all full-time employees of a district, not only certificated employees shall receive training on school safety and security, including instruction on school security drills. This training shall be conducted collaboratively by the district and emergency responders, including law enforceme33nt, fire and emergency medical services. If enacted, this bill would go into effect in the first full school year following the date of enactment.