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You did WHAT at School Today?

Written by Deborah Dunne, Safety and Security Specialist, Office of School Preparedness and Emergency Planning, New Jersey Department of Education

Picture this!  You and your family are sitting around the dinner table one evening, and you ask your nine-year-old son what he did in school that day.  In a nonchalant manner, he proceeds to tell you about his school’s “active shooter” drill, where he and his classmates had to sit on the floor in the corner of his classroom in the dark with the blinds closed!  Oh yeah, and they had to be really quiet, and they couldn’t get up until the policeman came to the door and told them it was safe.  Naturally, this catches you by surprise, and, as you nearly choke on your meatloaf, he continues to explain how last month’s “evacuation” drill was boring by comparison.  The only cool part was that they got to go outside without their coats!

Hopefully, this scenario did NOT take place in your home, and you did receive information from your school district regarding the law relating to mandatory school security drills.  Listed below are some important facts relating to School Security Drills:

  • School Security Drill Legislation (A2003) was signed into Law on January 11, 2010.
  • This law (18A:41-1) went into effect on November 1, 2010, and states that New Jersey schools are required to conduct one school security drill and one fire drill each month that school is open. 
  • The statute defines a school security drill as “an exercise, other than a fire drill, to practice procedures that respond to an emergency” including a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, bomb threat, or active shooter situation. The duration of a school security drill is similar to that of a fire drill.

The goal of any drill is to familiarize faculty, staff and students with specific procedures so they feel confident, safe, and secure in the event that an actual emergency arises.  Just as there are responsibilities for faculty, staff and students during an emergency, parents can play an essential role in keeping the school community safe. Please consider the following guidelines so that you can help your child’s school respond effectively:

  • Keep your emergency contact information up to date.  If your contact information changes during the school year, notify your child’s school of the change. If you have children in multiple schools, notify all of them.
  • In certain emergency situations (e.g., a school lockdown), all of the building’s outside doors will be locked. Do not come to school to pick up your child. This could put you at risk and may take away from the primary focus of student safety.
  • Know your school’s policy regarding cell phone use.  Unauthorized use of cell phones may be prohibited during school hours, including during school security drills and fire drills. The use of cell phones during an actual emergency can lead to confusion and misinformation.
  • Honestly evaluate whether you, as a parent, are doing your part in making schools safe.  Do you follow parking, visitor, and other safety procedures at your school? Do you support teachers and administrators with safety initiatives, including asking the above questions in a supportive, non-blaming manner? Do you talk with your child about personal safety considerations, drug and violence prevention issues, and related topics before an issue arises and regularly at home?  Do you seek professional help for your child in a timely manner, if needed?

For more information regarding school safety procedures and drills, please visit the NJ Department of Education School Security website at:  www.state.nj.us/education/schools/security/  for further information.