Glen Rock News Today sat down with Bruce Watson, the interim superintendent of schools since July 2017, to discuss school security. Mr. Watson said he is not an “interim superintendent” but rather a“superintendent for an interim period of time.” He was the superintendent of Fair Lawn schools until 2016 and, more recently, an interim superintendent for the Onteora Central District in Boiceville, NY.
GRNT: In April 1999, 12 students and one teacher were killed during the Columbine High School massacre and over 20 others were wounded. Now, 19 years later, 14 students and 3 faculty members were killed during the Marjory Stoneman shootings and 17 others were wounded. What does that say about schools’efforts to step up security?
Mr. Watson believes that school shootings are “societal issues and not school issues” but points out that much has changed in 19 years and not necessarily for the better. For example, he expressed concerns about social media. Cybersecurity expert, Melissa Straub, agrees, adding “social media exposes youth to violence that can desensitize children, normalizing bad behavior, which can lead to violent thoughts and/or actions.” Mr. Watson notes other changes possibly impacting school shootings include “bills that allow the growth of firearms” and “a change in family life.” And the family life change has been significant: families were once unified around one TV set; today, kids have computers in their bedrooms.
GRNT: School shootings appear almost commonplace now. And the spate of copycat threats that result in lockdowns are getting pervasive. After the deadly Florida shootings on February 14, there were veiled threats at schools in Dumont, Lodi, Garfield, & Bayonne. Glen Rock schools have routine lockdowns. When did that start and how often does it occur?
Mr. Watson said that “lockdowns in NJ were mandated five years ago”, explaining that “there are four drills: shelter in place, total lockdown, live shooter in the building, and evacuation drills. Glen Rock is required to do each drill a minimum of two times during the school year and do a fire drill and one security drill monthly.”
GRNT: What are the Glen Rock schools doing to ensure children’s safety and to reassure parents that theirchildren are safe? Do the schools react/do more after another school is threatened?
After the Florida school shooting, Mr. Watson sent out a letter to all parents, acknowledging the shooting and “reassuring them that the school is always planning improved security and safety measures. The school is continuously focused on the safety of the students and faculty.” But, for security purposes, hecouldn’t go into detail.
GRNT: Have you received any feedback from students and parents regarding school security?
The feedback that Mr. Watson receives from children and parents is very different. “Students voiceconcerns about another student’s behavior or what they may be hearing outside of the classroom. Parents send e-mails, expressing concern over school safety, with an underlying feeling that the schools are not safe enough.”
GRNT: What are your thoughts on the President’s proposal to arm trained faculty?
Mr. Watson is “not in favor of giving guns to teachers”. He is in “favor of placing Student Resource Officers (SROs), who are trained police officers, in each school.”
GRNT: Glen Rock’s middle school and high school participated in the National School Walkout on March 14th. This was an orchestrated show of activism to call for an end to gun violence. How did that go?
The planned walkout went “perfectly.” “The middle school students assembled in the auditorium while the high school students congregated in the gym. And those students who wanted to proceed to the footballfield, were escorted by staff with police presence.”
GRNT: In February, a grandmother in Washington (state) found her 18-year old grandson’s diary thatoutlined his plans to shoot up a school. She turned him in. Do you have any advice for parents that can help prevent a potential act of violence?
Mr. Watson suggests that “parents should have conversations with their children at the dinner table.” But he cautions that “the conversations should be age-appropriate”. He hopes that “moms & dads offer adviceabout being observant about other’s actions and report anything that they see or hear.”