ike most Americans,
East Brunswick Schools
Superintendent Victor Valeski watched the
death toll rise on television after the Parkland,
Florida, school shooting
this past Valentine’s Day.
He couldn’t help thinking
of his son, Chris, who by a
stroke of good fortune had
been spared in the deadli-
est school shooting in U.S. history, at Vir-
ginia Tech in 2007. Chris was to attend
class that day in the building where a
23-year-old student fatally gunned down
27 students and five faculty members.
Only a heads-up phone call from a friend
about an active shooter kept Chris out of
Valeski and the township police chief
had been talking about adding armed
officers at East Brunswick schools for
more than two years. Now, as the horror
of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School in Florida played out, he decided it was time to take that step. The
school board was scheduled to meet the
next day. Valeski added an item to the
agenda: school safety.
At the meeting, the board voted
unanimously to spend $434,000 for an
undisclosed number of armed police of-
ficers, who would be paid by the district
for doing extra shifts. They would join
71 unarmed officers already in place.
Valeski and the board had already invested millions of dollars in other safety
measures, including cameras, photo
identification of students and staff,
background checking and new buzz-in
locks on all doors. But for Valeski, it
The following day, an armed township
police officer was posted at each of two
schools. Three days later, cops with guns
were patrolling all 11 township schools.
In the blink of an eye, East Brunswick
had decisively weighed in on a debate
that continues to play out in school districts across the state.
Superintendents, school boards,
teachers, parents and students in New
Jersey, like their counterparts across
the country, have been wrestling with
school security since the Columbine
High School massacre in Littleton,
Colorado, in 1999, when two upper-classmen murdered 12 students and
a teacher. Columbine sparked a fierce
debate over how best to protect the nation’s schoolchildren.
Columbine presented a national
conundrum with no easy answers. Gun
control arguments were revisited with
little result. Experts began scrutinizing
school cliques and subcultures, bullying,
mental health treatment, social media
and video games.
Myriad strategies were offered, but
the shootings continued. A predictable
pattern emerged: After each shoot-
ing, an eruption of discourse has been
promptly relegated to a drawer marked
unresolved. The tenor of the debate
reached a new level in 2012 after 20
young students and six adult staff mem-
bers were gunned down in the Sandy
Hook Elementary School in Newtown,
Connecticut. The youngest victim was
six years old.
TO ARM OR NOT TO ARM: THAT’S THE QUESTION ROILING MANY NEW JERSEY DISTRICTS.
BY IAN T. SHEARN
the school issue