Posting a police officer in each of Toms River Regional's 18 schools was one of the safety recommendations made by parents to administrators at a recent subcommittee forum designed to encourage public participation in security measures.
After the December massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Toms River Regional School District Superintendent Frank Roselli said that a subgroup of the Super Safe School's Committee would convene soon to discuss safety. On Jan. 10, nearly 100 parents, staff and police representatives came together at High School South to do just that.
"Safety should always be number one," Roselli told a group of elementary school parents after he and other administrators listened to their safety concerns. "Safety is first and the district must make that commitment to the schools."
Only when students feel secure can they properly learn, the superintendent said, as they can focus on their education.
Some parents at the subcommittee said that they want a police officer in each school, including at the elementary level. 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 putting a police officer in every school does not appear to be a short-term possibility, as a tight budget already has Toms River's police department understaffed by 10 officers, said Chief of Police Michael Mastronardy following the meeting.
"Even if they had the money tomorrow, we don't have the personnel," he said. "We don't have the resources to consider that option, at least for the rest of the year."
Officer John Wissel of the South Toms River Police Department works as the Student Resource Officer in the borough's elementary school. He recommended that if parents want an officer in every building, they should make their voices heard to municipal and other government officials so that they can work to secure funding.
Parents also used the forum to voice their desire for buzz-in systems and cameras at every school. More fencing, including privacy screening so students cannot be seen by outsiders at elementary playgrounds, was another recommendation. Simple things, such as restricting building access and making sure doors to the outside remained locked during the day, were also discussed.
Since the incident in Connecticut, Toms River's school district has reviewed its security protocols, Roselli said. Front door cameras were installed at all intermediate schools — elementary schools are already equipped with the devices — at a cost of $1,600 each.
More changes are coming. Roselli said that 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.
Parent input is important to the district, Roselli said. In the days after the Connecticut shooting, he received numerous emails from parents expressing their school safety concerns.
"It is expected and quite honestly, it is appreciated," Roselli said, adding that he had a "sincere appreciation" for the parents who attended the subcommittee gathering.
In addition to input from the community, each of the district's 18 schools will submit recommendations on how to improve school security. Roselli said that the assessments from parents and staff will be reviewed by police representatives and recommendations will then be made to the Board of Education in about 4-6 weeks.
Mastronardy said that his department is committed to working with educators to ensure the safety of students.
"Whatever we can do to work with the school system, we will do," he said.