In Re: Guns. Contrasting Two Neighboring School Districts

How has your community responded to the latest horrific act of gun terror? It’s tragic to think that inaction on the congressional level has resulted in towns figuring out for themselves how to protect our children.

East Brunswick Public Schools just announced that it had engaged the East Brunswick Police Department to have armed police officers in its schools throughout the entire day. Here’s the entire announcement:

At its February 15, 2018 Meeting, the East Brunswick Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution to engage the East Brunswick Police Department to have armed police officers at all of its schools throughout the entire school day to insure the safety of our students and staff.   The armed police officers will supplement the District’s already existing staff of 71 security officers – all of who are retired police officers – to further enhance the security at all of East Brunswick Board of Education facilities throughout the school year.  It is the Board of Education and Superintendent’s commitment to take all necessary measures to insure that our students, staff and visitors remain safe and secure in our schools.   The Board of Education and the Superintendent wish to thank East Brunswick Township and the East Brunswick Police Department for its willingness work collaboratively with the District to provide armed police officers throughout the school year to enhance school security.

Just next door in Highland Park, the superintendent put out a letter the day after the shooting in Parkland, Fla. to stress that normalizing guns in daily life is not a means of achieving a healthy, nurturing, safe environment. Highland Park Public Schools are de-emphasizing knee-jerk punitive measures, focuses on strengthening interpersonal skills and healthy relationships, and teaching about hidden biases. Here’s the entire announcement:

Many of us are unnerved by the terrible event that occurred in Parkland, Florida yesterday. Every school shooting confirms my conviction that our kids are growing up in an extremely difficult time and need social, emotional, and psychological support as much as anything else if they are going to grow up to be mentally healthy, strong adults.

I write this letter not to echo how we’re reacting to the violence that occured in South Florida but to reassure you that your schools “get it.” Being a high-performing academic institution is important and Highland Park will continue to maintain its excellent reputation in this area, but no child or young adult will ever succeed unless he/she feels connected to school, is loved by peers and adults, and knows that schools are about deep, sincere caring. Below is just a snapshot of how our district has, in the last two years, greatly increased its focus on personal wellness:

  • We’re slowly but surely scaling back the “old school way” of punishing students who misbehave by building in ways we can reconnect kids to their school community and giving them the behavioral and mental health support they need to learn to make better decisions. The middle and high schools are in Year One of a three-year plan to move toward a “restorative practice” approach ( ).
  • We’re helping kids feel confident about themselves, strengthening their interpersonal skills, and encouraging them to have strong and healthy relationships with their peers. Responsive Classroom at Irving and Bartle ( ), the Bartle Social-Emotional Decision-Making Lab, and the soon-to-be launched Sources of Strength program at the middle and high schools ( ) are strategies to help in these areas.
  • We’re enhancing everyone’s awareness and attitude about the different cultural traits our kids bring to school. Understanding our hidden biases, recognizing how we may inadvertently “micro aggress” and identifying the influence of dominant “narratives” that may suppress kids’ identity are vital learnings in which we must continue to engage if we are to truly wrap our arms around all of our students so they feel a sense of belonging to the school community.

I’d be remiss in my effort to make you feel confident that the school district has an “all-in” attitude toward protecting your kids if I didn’t point out that highly structured and organized safety measures are in place to respond to events like what occured yesterday. The District Safety Committee has been meeting semi-monthly since 2015 to plan, codify, and help school personnel practice measures to maintain security. This group is comprised of support staff, teachers, leaders, local clergy, police, Office of Emergency Management personnel, and members of our board of education. We will meet soon to reflect on what happened yesterday and consider what else can be taken away from what our unfortunate friends in Parkland experienced.

Our schools’ support staff, teachers, supervisors, principals, and I love your children. We’re committed to doing everything in our power to keep them safe and protected. Being a parent/guardian during this time may be difficult, knowing that your child is without your reach for seven hours of the day, five days a week, but know that we’ll be keeping a nurturing, comforting eye on them always.

How can two neighboring towns be so different? Do guns save lives or does gun control save lives? More, what are the long-term effects on our students by normalizing the presence of guns the classroom? Personally, I would not stand for armed police officers in my kids’ school. If we have to act locally, I would much rather support the suite of gun reforms advanced by Gov. Murphy and Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald.


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