By DON STINE
Specially-trained armed police will now be part of the security plan in Ocean Township schools, under a measure approved by the Board of Education on June 19.
The board approved hiring one Special Class III police officer for each of the five schools in the district at an estimated cost of $50,000 per officer.
“The cost will be a mutual shared-services agreement between the school district and the police department,” School Superintendent of Schools James Stefankiewicz.
The Special Class III officers, who will be retired police officers, will carry firearms and receive special training for their new job. The officers cannot have been retired for more than three years and will be specially trained to identify and address the needs of school children.
Stefankiewicz said the new officers are not replacing the existing security measures now in place at schools and he said the officers will only have jurisdiction within the school.
“After the Parkland shooting there has been a lot of discussion about the best way to keep our schools as safe as possible. The board felt having an armed guard in a building rather than minutes away could mean a lot. An armed guard is not a guarantee but certainly a way to shorten response times. Someone will be in the school to respond quickly and hopefully save lives,” he said.
But Stefankiewicz also stressed that the school district also deals with potential security problems by having an aggressive student-counseling service in conjunction with local human services.
“We are taking counseling services very serious. We do not just want to react but prevent it in the first place. It’s not just about putting people with guns in the schools. We are making sure our conflict services are as good as they can be,” he said.
But Stefankiewicz admits that “nothing is 100 percent foolproof” and that the board recognizes that some parents will not be happy with the new security measure. The school board has held open public workshops to discuss safety measures.
“Parents coming to the board meetings seem to be support the idea but some believe putting any guns in school is not the answer,” he said.
He said that a few schools in the area already have this policy in place or are at least looking at it.
The new officers are expected to be on the job at the beginning of the new school year.
“Our goal is to get this up and running as soon as possible but, realistically, it may take a little bit of time. It’s not like there is a big pool of qualified officers out there,” he said.