School shooting incidents such as Parkland (2018), Sandy Hook (2012), and Columbine (1999), keep school safety and security in focus over how to keep our children safe. This has given rise to a number of untested and unproven security measures on the market for sale to districts with little knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.
Educational architect Frank Messineo, founder of Verona-based Solutions Architecture, has seen this cycle repeat itself over the 22 years he’s been in practice. “It was Columbine that really opened my eyes to the possibility of events like this. The world has changed and the simple innocence connected with going to school has been shattered. We are now forced to consider the unthinkable,” Messineo says.
On April 11, Solutions Architecture held an informational roundtable with local law enforcement, security experts, and school officials from several New Jersey towns. This grassroots event provided brainstorming, new and different perspectives, and brought unfamiliar issues to the table.
Unfortunately, with each new event, a spotlight is shined on superintendents and boards of education who are faced with having to deliver the right message and provide the right measures that will ensure parents, students, and staff feel safe. Dr. Lauren Schoen, superintendent of Mahwah School District, says, “We have always had security measure in places — we now need to go further.”
According to Messineo, “Each time something like this occurs, we have the same exact discussions, and yet nothing has been done at the state or national levels to come up with a standard.” Because of this lack of regulation, opportunism tends to rise up during these times, by both colleagues and vendors alike, who are taking advantage of a district’s need to react quickly and attempt to implement measures in the interest of safety.” We have a code for everything else, Messineo stated, “the fire sub-code has performed its job at reducing the number of fatalities from fire; yet no one has taken up the mantle to create a ‘Security Code.'”
“This is the way to do it,” notes Carl Mittelhammer, director of crisis management for the Bergenfield School District. I think we all learned something new through the roundtable format and group discussion.”
The session focused on a variety of security measures that are now on the market and highlighted the pros and cons and costs of each. Police Chiefs Anthony Manna of Fairfield and John DiPasquale of Berkeley Heights were there to offer their expertise. A large part of the discussion was on debunking the myths associated with some of the more popular measures such as ballistic film. “There’s no such thing as a film that stops bullets. It doesn’t exist, no matter what the vendors are telling you. You simply can’t believe everything on the internet,” says Chief Manna.
“It’s impossible to say that we are able to keep the children and staff 100 percent safe for 100 percent of the time,” says Messineo. “We need to have events like this on a larger stage, we need to talk to the legislature, senators, and Governor and to push for standardization of security measures. Creating a code can result in uniform measures, will save money in the long run, and will ensure that the right information is getting to the right people at the right time.”
In attendance were Dr. Lauren Schoen, superintendent, Mahwah School District; Dr. Judith Rattner, superintendent, Berkeley Heights School District; Mr. James Grube, superintendent, Lincoln Park School District; Mr. Rick Spirito, superintendent, Hawthorne School District; Mr. Kenneth Rota, superintendent, Fort Lee School District; Mr. Michael Polizzi, superintendent, New Milford School District; Mr. Michael Sawicz, business administrator, New Milford School District; Mr. Mark Gengaro, school administrator, Clifton School District; Mr. Michael Daglezt, director of facilities, Ridgefield Park School District; Mr. Scott Collins, director of facilities, Midland Park School District, and Mr. Scott Bendul, supervisor of buildings, grounds, & security, Fort Lee School District.