Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mahwah Officials Must Unite for School Safety

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Mahwah Officials Must Unite for School Safety

Article excerpt

After Wednesday's mass shooting inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, parents as well as school and municipal officials across the country are on edge. So it's not hard to understand Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet's reaction after learning that a Mahwah eighth-grader made a threat against a school last year and neither he nor the Township Council had been alerted. Laforet has asked the police chief to immediately assign a uniformed, armed patrol officer to each school in the township.

We're not sure whether that's an overreaction to a threat that may not exist. We are sure such a decision should not be unilateral. It should include the Township Council, school officials and the police chief.

Last year, a student made a threat against a Mahwah school that apparently was determined not to be credible. School officials must quickly decide whether to close a school and notify parents of a possible threat to public safety. Local police are an essential part of that process. But so are municipal officials — they are responsible for the overall safety of a community. If the police chief is called in, the mayor and council, at the very least, should be in the loop.

If it turns out that the threat was a hoax, the public may not need to know much about it, but municipal leaders must know. And given the frequency of mass shootings inside schools, we suggest state education officials begin to aggregate this information from every school in New Jersey — including private ones — for two reasons: to see how often threats happen and where they emanate from, and because if the unthinkable does happen here, every level of government needs to respond quickly and thoughtfully.

We believe in as much public disclosure as possible, yet we recognize that school officials need to determine whether a threat is real, whether the student allegedly making the threat is troubled and/or dangerous, and whether publicizing bogus threats encourages copycats. It's not an easy call. That's why municipal officials and police need to be part of the process.

Laforet's decision to ask the police chief to assign an armed patrol officer to every school raises another question: Is this necessary? …

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