Emotions ran high at a meeting of the Toms River Regional school board on Wednesday night, with much of the conversation surrounding elementary school security in the wake of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school last week.
Toms River posts school resource officers at its high schools, but some parents at the meeting worried about access to elementary and intermediate schools in the regional district. Some asked that armed guards – current or retired police officers – be on hand.
“It seems to me that our elementary schools are the most vulnerable,” said one parent, who did not want to be named. “If a shooter, God forbid, ever came to an elementary school it’s not the hardest [place] to get in. I implore the board to consider a resource officer to really try and protect our elementary schools.”
Board President Russel Corby repeatedly asked parents who commented on security issues not to identify specific concerns at a public meeting since it would become a matter of public record, but did say that plans for expanded security are in the works.
“We are in contact – I won’t say specifically about what because of security matters – with both Toms River [police] and the prosecutor’s office,” said Corby. “It’s not being ignored. Those conversations are already going on.”
Earlier this week, school and police officials released a joint statement to the media outlining their partnership when it comes to school safety.
Safety plans have been crafted for each of the district’s 18 schools, and those plans are reviewed annually, the statement said. Each school conducts ongoing drills and simulated emergency exercises for students and staff, and the training is reviewed and modified as needed. Staff and students, the statement went on to say, are also trained to “speak up and report suspicious activity they see at school sites or other district locations.”
Officials asked parents and students to bring concerns to administrators rather than discuss them in public or online.
“Some of the chatter that is online, there are issues,” said board member Daniel Leonard. “When we start discussing these things online, we’re opening it up to the public – things about any vulnerabilities. It’s kind of enhancing our threat level.”
Ocean County has invested in technology to respond to active shooting scenarios, Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said.
“Ocean County schools and law enforcement currently have implemented state of the art High Tech School Mapping/Shooter Response Initiatives,” he said. “Our partnership will continue to aggressively explore, reevaluate and institute proactive measures to restrict school access, protect the safety of our students and assure the security of our schools’ learning environment.”
“There is no greater partnership than that of Toms River School System and the police departments that support and serve the students, families and staff in our respective communities,” said Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little. “We are continually working together to provide the highest level of safety and security possible.”
Any parent or family member with concerns or questions about school safety procedures is encouraged to contact Toms River Regional Schools at 732-505-5500. Community members may contact the Toms River Police Department at 732-349-0150.