To the Editor of the Highland Park Planet:
On December 14, 2012, an armed intruder attacked Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The inconceivable carnage left 20 children dead, along with six adults who attempted to thwart the attack.
Although there will never be a simple answer as to how to prevent the
behavior which led to the attack, everyone agrees that access to our
schools is far too easy for those intent on causing harm.
Immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting, members of the New Jersey
Legislature made proposals to improve school safety. Upon the request of
Gov. Chris Christie, these initiatives were placed on hold so that a
commission could be formed to study the issue on a holistic basis. Gov.
Christie signed legislation creating the School Security Task Force into
law in August of 2013. The task force consisted of an 11-member body
commissioned to study and develop recommendations to ensure a safe
environment for students and school employees. As a legislator and as a
parent, I was proud to be a part of this bipartisan approach to develop
a statewide program to make our schools safe. I was hopeful that
renovations to our schools would be underway within a matter of months.
I must regrettably report that the only thing that has been accomplished
over the two years since the bill was signed is an increase in my
frustration, as well as that of my legislative colleagues.
Gov. Christie did not appoint members to the School Security Task Force
until March 2014, seven months after signing the bill. During that time,
he twice rejected legislation to require silent alarms in schools
(A-373), noting that he would “reserve judgment on the proposal until
the School Security Task Force completes its study and issues its
findings and recommendations on school security issues.” From December
2014, I repeatedly have asked the Department of Education about the
status of the recommendations of the task force. I was assured that a
report would be published in April. Nothing has been forthcoming. It is
my understanding that the recommendations of the task force are stalled
in the governor’s office.
I pride myself on working with all members of the legislature and the
administration to do what’s right for our children. In this instance,
all efforts have been futile.
As chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, I believe that keeping
our kids safe when they are in school must be our number one priority.
The inattentiveness of the administration is inexcusable. I can only
pray that another child’s life will not be taken in the new school year
by a lunatic who had access to a school because common sense safety
measures were delayed.
The legislature has done its part. It’s time for the governor to do his.
Patrick J. Diegnan Jr.
Assemblyman from the 18th District representing Middlesex County in the N.J. Assembly