WOODSTOWN — Ever since the Newtown shooting in Connecticut, school districts throughout the state have been re-evaluating and heightening various methods of security.
These efforts have included school resource officers, retired law enforcement officers, and school security specialists who may patrol different districts, armed or not.
Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional School District is a recent location to implement armed school security specialists who now roam the halls of its four schools.
With the goal of tightening security for any situation that could arise, district administration has carefully considered whether or not to have armed personnel patrolling the high and middle school, Mary S. Shoemaker School, and the Early Childhood Learning Center.
Since last month, four specialists — one in each school building — with concealed guns patrol their jurisdiction.
“It’s instinctive that we are mindful of where the gun is on the body, as well as being distinguished from the rest of staff. It’s a low probability, but if there is ever a hostile intruder, you can’t be defenseless or unarmed,” Kevin DiPatri, head of security specialists, said Monday.
Woodstown-Pilesgrove contracted with K.D. National Force Security — a private and insured company with retired and experienced law enforcement professionals with at least 20 years in the field.
Unlike school resource officers — that are local law enforcement officers that cover the schools — these school security specialists are independent from local police.
Security specialists with K.D. must also complete semi-annual firearms qualifications and the annual active shooter and hazard/crisis response training.
Additionally, qualifications for these specialists include having served in a supervisory role, completed the NJ Safe Schools Resource Officer training, be certified with the officer registry act, and meet proper requirements to carry a handgun.
DiPatri is the president of K.D. National Force, which has contracted with the district at a total cost of $138,600 a year for all the security specialists combined.
This breaks down to $27.50 per hour, or $34,650 per officer.
By the time the contract expires at the end of the school year, the district will decide if it would like to continue with the security and then make any necessary changes, should it continue.
“This is the old concept of a policeman on the beat, an officer getting to know the public and not just showing up when something goes wrong, but assisting and serving on a daily basis,” Woodstown-Pilesgrove Superintendent of Schools Tom Coleman said.
Not only will the four armed specialists act to keep the schools secure, but also provide information and education including drug awareness, social media, HIB (harassment, intimidation, bullying), and truancy, according to DiPatri.
“We’re looking to change the way security is looked at in school systems and this is one of a kind. I think it’s been great,” Woodstown Middle School Principal Chris Schneider said.
For Mary S. Shoemaker School, Principal Diane Cioffi said the specialists are not there to just improve safety, but also implement life lessons to the young pupils.
“They’ve been wonderful. This hasn’t been about make you safer, because we want to instill that you’re always safe in our care, but it’s about adding to that, which is what the focus has been on for us,” Cioffi said.
Other principals in the district have also vocalized a sense of security knowing that there are people who understand safety plans and quick response in case of an emergency.
“It’s definitely a peace of mind knowing we have a trained specialist in the building. God forbid we need that type of support in an incident, I’m glad they can advise us and that’s comforting,” Richard Senor, high school assistant principal, said.
Each specialist is on duty from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is prepared for any level of emergency — from student altercations and upset parents to the worst case scenario, an active shooter.
“The one thing that is important is to have trained security so that we can work to close the gap of vulnerability,” DiPatri said, adding that in a dangerous situation, there is an estimated 1 to 5 minutes to respond.
A key to the success of the new security is continual communication alongside parents, staff, and the community, according to Coleman.
Whether or not the guns will always be concealed is not clear at this time, but the district administration and board of education will continue to discuss whether the weapons can be out in the open in the future.
“Right now, it’s still under review. There are pros and cons but we are taking it in to consideration. It really is for the sensitivity to the public. These guys are highly experienced and trained so we set the bar high,” Coleman said.
For more information on the different types of security personnel, or to read the final report of the New Jersey School Boards Association School Security Task Force, please visit www.njsba.org/news/security-task-force/pdfs/final-report.pdf.