On Jan. 10, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation requiring school security drills in the Garden State to be “age-appropriate” and to prevent unnecessary traumatization of schoolchildren. Among other requirements, the new law prohibits the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, or the simulations of gun shots or explosions in school security drills.
Murphy said the legislation, which he announced his support for last April, will strike an appropriate balance between ensuring that students are informed and ready for threats that schools face in the present day, while being sensitive to the mental health needs of schoolchildren.
“Unfortunately, school security drills are a reality of the environment that our students are living in,” said Murphy. “These necessary exercises are proven to save lives but may also traumatize young children if not conducted in an appropriate manner.”
Primary sponsors of this legislation include Assemblymembers Pamela Lampitt, Louis Greenwald, and Ralph Caputo, as well as Senators Loretta Weinberg, and Shirley Turner.
“Security drills do not have to mimic many students’ biggest fear in order to be effective,” said Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald. “We can make sure our students know what to do during real security events by providing them with proper resources and using less-intense security drills instead of relying on damaging scare tactics.”
The legislation, A-5727/S-3726, requires the following guidance and procedures for school districts conducting school security drills when students are present:
- Drills will include clear, developmentally and age-appropriate messaging to students and staff at the conclusion of the drill that the event is a drill and no current danger exists;
- Drills cannot include the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, or the simulations of gun shots, explosions, or other sounds or visuals that may induce panic or a traumatic response from a student or school district employee;
- Drills must be accessible to students with disabilities and mental health conditions, and provides all necessary accommodations for these students;
- School districts shall provide written notification to the parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the district following completion of a school security drill by no later than the end of that day;
- School districts may permit emergency personnel access to the buildings and grounds of its schools for school security drills that are scheduled outside of school hours and during such times as students are not present;
- Districts shall review and update their school security drill procedures using a process that coincides with the review of the school safety and security plan developed pursuant to N.J.A.C.6A:16-5.1 and collects input from emergency personnel, parents, and guardians of students enrolled in the district, teachers and staff employed in the district, mental health professionals, and student government representatives from multiple grade levels; and
- School districts will annually track data on such measures and information as are required by the Commissioner of Education, and shall report the data to the commissioner.
Acting Director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Laurie Doran added, “As threats continue to evolve, so does the need for our tactics. This bill helps ensure our school security efforts embrace students and families in a way that cultivates a culture of preparedness through continual improvement.”
“We applaud Gov. Murphy for taking proactive steps to prioritize student mental health in preventing school shootings and violence in New Jersey,” said Mark Barden, CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “We must do all we can to protect our children from the trauma of a school shooting, beginning with our safety drills.”