Stationing a police officer in each of Toms River Regional's 18 schools may not be a possibility in the short-term, but education officials said that they are working toward providing greater security at every building.
Members of the district's Super Safe Schools Committee again met Monday, along with parents and police, to outline what security work has been done and what continues.
"We want to assure each and every one of our parents that this discussion does not end this evening," said Assistant Superintendent of Schools James Hauenstein. "Every time we have the opportunity to revisit safety, to look at this issue, you have our promise that we'll do it."
During a committee meeting in January, several parents said that they would like to see a police officer in each school. Currently, one officer is stationed at each of the three high schools and Intermediate School South, and one officer splits his time between Intermediate School North and East. The district also employs seven retired officers as security guards at its high schools.
But Toms River Chief of Police Michael Mastronardy said that with 14 officers retiring this year from his department, which is already eight below where it should be, it is unlikely an officer will be posted at every school anytime soon.
"We're not going to have people we can arbitrarily assign," Mastronardy said.
The department plans to hire four officers and has requested additional staffing from the township, but with budgeting concerns it is unclear how many will be hired, the chief said.
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, Toms River's school district has reviewed its security protocols. Front door cameras were installed at all intermediate schools — elementary schools are already equipped with the devices — at a cost of $1,600 each, administrators have said.
The district plans to hold in-service days for teachers on Election Day so that no students are in the buildings while they are being utilized by the public for voting. Elementary school principals will have administrative meetings after school rather than in the morning to ensure that those buildings, which typically have fewer administrators, will have proper staffing at all times, according to administrators.
Buzzing and camera systems are "going forward at the three high schools," Hauenstein said. "Best practice" guidelines for buzzing systems have been collected from schools so that administrators can share ideas about what works and share that information.
The district also is looking at special locks for classrooms and upgrading communications including handheld radios and phone systems. All three high schools are moving toward requiring identification badges for students, staff and visitors.
A panic button bill is being considered by state legislators, and officials are "waiting to see where that bill goes to see how we go about that process," Hauenstein said.
That proposal may need some work, according to Mastronardy, as police are concerned about false alarms.
"We really need to have two-way conversations when something occurs," he said. "We're a little concerned about that."
Safety recommendations are expected to be presented to the Toms River Board of Education during their March 21 meeting at High School North.
"I can assure you all of the departments work hand-in-hand and we're ready for any situations that may arise," Mastronardy said.
"The Toms River Regional School system has been the leader, actually prior to Columbine, with providing safety," the chief said. "They've taken the lead and we're proud of that."