February 21, 2018

Schools Step Up Security After Parkland Shootings

By Anne Levin

Since the tragic murder of 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last week, area public and private schools have had to reconsider how to best provide a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff.

Based on security audits last month, several changes had already been put in place throughout the Princeton Public Schools (PPS). But the Parkland shootings, and a recent incident in which a former student entered and later left the Princeton High School building, prompted more changes be made. 

From now on, according to a letter sent to parents last week by PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane, all doors at the high school are locked during arrival times and during the school day. Students are able to enter through the tower entrance or the entrance by the Performing Arts Center. Security personnel monitor both entrances, and parents and other visitors are admitted only through the tower entrance and have to sign in.

At the elementary schools and John Witherspoon Middle School, students can only arrive through the main entrances, which are monitored by staff. Enhanced public address systems and security cameras have also been recommended.

“Please note that security is also an important component of the proposed facilities referendum,” Cochrane wrote. “We plan to add new entryways to all six of our buildings that will be warm, welcoming, and secure.”

West Windsor-Plainsboro Schools superintendent David M. Aderhold sent a similar letter to parents of students in that district following the Parkland shootings. Noting that the schools have a strong partnership with the West Windsor and Plainsboro police departments, Aderhold said, “District officials have ongoing discussions with local law enforcement and emergency management officials to review and revise safety plans and protocols. Evacuation, lockdown, and active shooter drills are conducted monthly.”

Aderhold said lockdown door
magnets, cameras, and intercom system upgrades have been recently made, but further enhancements will be presented to the Board of Education during the budget process.

The East Brunswick Public Schools district has taken the threat especially seriously, stationing armed guards in all of its schools, where security officers have already been in place. In South Brunswick, a joint statement in response to the Florida shootings was made last week by the chief of police, superintendent of schools, and township manager saying an “enhanced police presence” was being put into place.

Some local private schools also responded to the tragedy. The Hun School declined to provide specific details of security practices, but issued a statement saying safety and security procedures are regularly reviewed. “We work with local officials to ensure that best practices are in place on an ongoing basis,” said Communications Director Maureen E. Leming. “And, naturally, after a tragedy like the one in Florida, we will learn all that we can from it.”

While the Lawrenceville School has not made specific changes in response to the Parkland tragedy, the school provides 24/7 security patrols by a staff of trained personnel including former police officers. “We practice monthly lockdown and fire drills, and run tests of our rapid communication system on a regular basis,” according to a statement. “We have security cameras in a number of sensitive spots around campus. We also consult regularly with other schools to share information on best practices.”

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, whose daughter is a sophomore at Princeton High School, said she wants not just students, but everyone in the community “to be able to not live in fear. To be a community you need to be able to get out and about, and it’s not just school. The prevalence of military-style guns in our country is making those normal daily activities less and less safe. The long-term solution needs to be reforming our crazy, nonsensical gun laws, and the students who are survivors in Florida have been so eloquent on this point. It’s important that we listen to them.”