New bill could require schools to install panic buttons
By ERIN ROLL
A new bill awaiting the governor’s signature will require public schools, including Montclair’s, to have silent alarms and emergency lights installed.
The bill, known as Alyssa’s Law, cleared both the Assembly and the Senate on June 25. It now awaits signing by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The bill is named for 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, who was among the students killed during the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Alhadeff was a former New Jersey resident. She and her family moved to Florida from Woodcliff Lake a few years before the shooting.
“Each public elementary and secondary school building shall be equipped with at least one panic alarm for use in a school security emergency including, but not limited to, a non-fire evacuation, lock down or active shooter situation. The alarm shall be directly linked to local law enforcement authorities or, in the case of a school building located in a municipality where there is no municipal police department, a location designated by the superintendent of state police, and shall immediately transmit a signal or message to such authorities upon activation,” the bill reads.
A red light would be installed outside the school to be seen from the street, and would go on at the same time the silent alarm is activated inside the school.
The lights and alarms would be paid for through proceeds from bonds issued by Economic Development Authority. Costs could be anywhere from $1,000 and $5,000 per a school, according to a Legislative Fiscal Estimate in 2016.
The bill indicates that if a school district already installed panic alarms or a similar device prior to the passage of Alyssa’s Law, the district may be eligible for reimbursement.
Montclair has entered into talks with police and fire departments on how to improve safety measures at the schools.
Montclair’s school safety budget includes $755,225 in state aid for security. The district had asked for additional money to help cover costs for an increase in security.
BOE President Laura Hertzog said a district team, which includes the superintendent, business administrator, principals and the police, are conducting a review over the summer of district-wide security. She was not sure if silent alarms and panic buttons were to be included in the discussions.
Some of the proposed upgrades for the district include a new set of locks and master keys for all exterior doors, which would be given only to the superintendent and certain administrators.
Hertzog said that the district would abide by whatever the state decided with security measures, since security was extremely important to the district.
“If we can’t keep our kids safe, we can’t do anything else,” Hertzog said.
There is no timeline for when the administration would present the report to the board.
The bill does not give a deadline in which schools need to be outfitted with the alarms.
The bill has the primary backing of Assembly members Ralph Caputo, Cleopatra Tucker, Annette Quijano, Valerie Vaineri Huttle, Shavonda Sumter and Angela McKnight.
Assembly members Thomas Giblin and Britnee Timberlake, whose District 34 includes Montclair, also supported the bill. Timberlake is a member of the Assembly Education Committee as well.
The bill passed the Assembly 76-0, with no abstentions.