TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee today approved legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner which would instruct local school districts and municipalities to work together to develop action plans in case of a school crisis.
“The tragedy at Virginia Tech serves as a somber reminder that we must be ever-vigilant in keeping our schools safe so that our children may learn in a secure environment,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Chair of the Committee. “Preparation is the key to safety, and it is critical that we have a clear, well-developed crisis plan for every school in New Jersey.”
The bill, S-2405, would require local emergency management councils to establish a school crisis subcommittee to develop a school crisis response action plan in consultation with the County Office of Emergency Management for each school in the municipality.
The action plan developed by the subcommittee would have to address procedures for the evacuation of school buildings in the event of an emergency or disaster, where students and personnel would go upon evacuation, where facilities for treatment of the injured would be located and procedures for notifying the families of students and school personnel concerning the emergency, including their location and the extent of any injuries suffered.
“We must do everything possible to minimize the chaos that comes in the wake of a crisis. The first few minutes after a crisis are the most important in reducing the harm caused by an emergency,” explained Senator Turner.
The subcommittee would then submit the proposed plan to the local emergency management council for approval. Upon approval, the council would submit the plan to the Office of Emergency Management in the Department of Law and Public Safety.
Under the bill, the school crisis response subcommittee would be comprised of five members appointed by the superintendent of schools, and five members appointed by the mayor or chief executive officer of the municipality.
“School violence is a problem that must be addressed from multiple angles,” added Senator Turner. “While we must be prepared to act quickly in case a crisis occurs, we’d be far better off preventing violent outbreaks in the first place. We must give schools the tools needed to develop comprehensive violence prevention programs.”
Also within the Office of Emergency Management, a “Youth Violence in New Jersey Schools Grant Program” would be established. The grant funds would be distributed to school districts to develop violence prevention programs, fund workshops and speakers on youth violence prevention, and examine security requirements. The grant may also be used for the development of the school crisis response action plan if the State Director of Emergency Management finds that sufficient cause for such use is demonstrated. The grant amount would range from $2,500 to $5,000
The bill passed the Committee by a vote of 3-0. It now goes to the full Senate for their approval.