By Debbie Maimon
In landmark legislation, the New Jersey State Legislature has passed the Secure School for All Children Act, allocating $11.3 million for surveillance equipment and security personnel for non-public schools.
The bill, which passed both the Assembly and the Senate by a unanimous vote, now heads to the governor’s office.
The Secure School for All Children Act is the brainchild of New Jersey State Assemblyman Gary Schaer who launched the initiative last year and tirelessly worked for its passage. His leadership and vision in spearheading the bill addresses the heightened need, in an age marked by eruptions of terror across the world, to beef up security measures in all schools to protect our most precious and vulnerable population.
The new legislation raises security funding for non-public schools from a previous $25 per child to $75 per child and provides for circuit surveillance cameras, sensors, lockdown controls and security personnel. These measures are crucial to ensure a safer environment for our children.
Assemblyman Schaer’s passionate advocacy for the Secure School Act won the Assembly’s full-house backing, with the measure passing unanimously onApril 7, 2016. It entered the Senate on a high, especially with Assembly Speaker, Vincent Prieto adding himself as a primary sponsor. Senator James Beach and Senator Robert Gordon introduced the bill into the senate and has now passed the Senate unanimously.
In intensive advocacy efforts, Agudath Israel of America testified before the New Jersey Assembly and Senate Budget Committees about the urgent need for heightened security in non-public schools, emphasizing that schools, particularly Jewish ones, are open targets for terrorists. Many yeshivas and day schools are financially strapped and lack the funds to acquire adequate security equipment and personnel, leaving them a soft target.
In addition to its advocacy on the political front, Agudath Israel rallied grassroots support for the Secure School for All Children Act throughout New Jersey. In Lakewood, Edison, Elizabeth, Long Branch, Marboro and Deal, Agudath Israel organized community events at which community leaders and rabbonim emphasized that we can no longer take our children’s safety for granted; security funding for our schools must be the priority of the hour.
“The unanimous passage of the Secure School For All Children Act in both houses of the Legislature is a remarkable achievement for our community,” said Rabbi Avi Schnall, Director of Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey Office. He lauded New Jersey’s elected officials, specifically, Senators Beach and Gordon and Senate President Stephen Sweeney for their sensitivity to the non-public school sector, singling out Assembly Gary Shaer for his inspired leadership and unwavering advocacy for the bill.
Rabbi Schnall cited the valuable contributions of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center and the Catholic Conference in promoting the new legislation, noting that their efforts played a significant role in the bill’s passage.