The 2014-15 school year is officially days away and preparations have already begun. Parents are nearly done with their school shopping, students with their summer reading, and teachers have their curriculums set. But Cedar Grove schools have added yet another box to its checklist.
“Security is an ongoing theme here in Cedar Grove,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Fetherman stated in email to the Times, adding that plans for the new year include monitoring daily traffic going in and out of the schools. “We are looking further at limiting access to our buildings through the expanded use of key fobs that are active only during certain hours of the day.”
So far, windows have been tinted in large areas in the schools where it would be hard to hide, like media centers, gymnasiums and cafeterias.
Ignited by the 2012 tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, Fetherman said he and the Board of Education have been working within the district’s budget, and with law enforcement, to improve safety at the municipality’s four public schools.
“Over the past two years, the Cedar Grove Police Department has worked very closely with school officials to improve security in all township schools,” Cedar Grove Police Chief Richard Vanderstreet said. The chief added that detectives John Kennedy and Michael Tower, and Officer Carolyn Zajack, are the primary officers involved in the School Safety Initiative – a collaborative effort between local law enforcement and the district to bolster school safety, according to Vanderstreet.
In 2013, the Cedar Grove Board of Education contracted the Triangle Training Group to train its personnel, assess its school buildings and make safety recommendations for the future, according to previous reports in the Times.
The group, led by law enforcement veteran Bill Fearon, is comprised of state and local police officers who gauge security procedures in school districts, determine its weaknesses and offer suggestions to enhance defenses, according to previous reports.
After reviewing the schools, the group returned a 21-page report to the board that Fetherman says has been a key factor in improving security. “We’re going to continue to examine all access points in to and out of each building to ensure maximum safety,” Fetherman stated.
Fetherman says the board is also looking to install cameras in areas classified by school principals as “target zones.”
Future changes include active shooter response drills for police officers and training for all school staff in handling critical incidents and implementing a new emergency response plan, according to Vanderstreet.
“We also instituted a new procedure where our officers conduct frequent School Safety Checks at different times during the school day,” Vanderstreet said.
With the report as their guide, Fetherman and Vanderstreet feel that they are making significant strides toward protecting the students and staff within their district.
“We will continue to meet with key personnel both in and out of the school district to coordinate plans that impact safety,” Fetherman said.