Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation earlier this month requiring school security drills to be age-appropriate and to prevent the traumatization of schoolchildren.
Legislation pushed by Murphy since last April, supporters of the bill said it will strike an appropriate balance between ensuring that students are informed and ready for threats that schools face in the present day, while being sensitive to the mental health needs of schoolchildren. Among other requirements, the legislation prohibits the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, or the simulations of gunshots or explosions in school security drills.
“Unfortunately, school security drills are a reality of the environment that our students are living in,” said Murphy in a press statement signing the bill Jan. 10. “These necessary exercises are proven to save lives but may also traumatize young children if not conducted in an appropriate manner. “
Details of New Law
“This legislation will ensure that school security drills provide students with the information and preparedness that they need to stay safe in emergency situations, while also taking steps to prevent drills from having a harmful impact on the mental health of our schoolchildren.”
A-5727/S-3726 requires the following guidance and procedures for school districts conducting school security drills when students are present:
- Drills will include clear, developmentally and age-appropriate messaging to students and staff at the conclusion of the drill that the event is a drill and no current danger exists;
- Drills cannot include the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, or the simulations of gun shots, explosions, or other sounds or visuals that may induce panic or a traumatic response from a student or school district employee;
- Drills must be accessible to students with disabilities and mental health conditions, and provides all necessary accommodations for these students;
- School districts shall provide written notification to the parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the district following completion of a school security drill, which notice shall be provided to the parent or guardian by no later than the end of the school day on which the school security drill is conducted;
- School districts may permit emergency personnel access to the buildings and grounds of its schools for school security drills that are scheduled outside of school hours and during such times as students are not present;
- District shall review and update their school security drill procedures using a process that coincides with the review of the school safety and security plan and collects input from emergency personnel, parents and guardians of students enrolled in the district, teachers and staff employed in the district, mental health professionals, and student government representatives from multiple grade levels;
- School districts will annually track data on such measures and information as are required by the Commissioner of Education, and shall report the data to the commissioner.
Former State Senator Loretta Weinberg, a sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber, said the bill looks to ensure students who have enough stress in their lives do not gain “one more layer of trauma” from these drills.
“When it comes to so-called ‘active-shooter’ drills in our schools, we need to make sure we are consistent in our messaging, so as to make sure students know the difference between a drill and a real-time event,” said Weinberg. “While we need to prepare our students for the worst, we also need to continue to address the gun issue directly—especially in regard to ease of accessing firearms and the mental health issues that so often play an underlying role in the nation’s rising epidemic of gun violence.”
Acting Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Angelica Allen McMillan offered that the new requirements strike a balance to ensure students and school staff safety as well as aiming to prevent drills from causing undue confusion or alarm.
“We have always maintained the need for schools to provide a balanced, age-appropriate approach to school safety – a point that we have stressed in the numerous training programs and drill observations the Department has conducted, and continues to conduct,” said Allen McMillan.
The updated procedures have the backing of the state’s teacher’s union as well as numerous gun violence prevention advocates
“We have to keep our students safe, and that includes protecting their mental and emotional health,” said New Jersey Education Association President Sean M. Spiller. “We applaud Gov. Murphy and the Legislature for taking this step to ensure that the safety drills intended to protect students from physical harm are also designed to protect them from unnecessary fear and trauma.”
“This bill provides necessary, modernized reforms to the way our schools practice active shooter drills, to ensure that they are trauma-informed and age-appropriate for students,” said Amy Faucher, a volunteer with the New Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action.
Mark Barden, CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund and father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy added, “We must do all we can to protect our children from the trauma of a school shooting, beginning with our safety drills.”