Tuckerton Proposes Adding Armed Police Officer at Elementary School

Superintendent Also Addresses Lice Concerns
By Pat Johnson | Nov 27, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson

Tuckerton — Tuckerton officials have offered to place an armed police officer in the Tuckerton Elementary School five days a week during school hours.

The day after the lockdown of the school because of an active shooter alert in Tuckerton, district Superintendent Janet Gangemi received a call from the borough administrator saying the town would be willing to assign an officer to the school if the school would kick in $20,000 toward the officer’s salary.

The proposal was approved at the Nov. 25 board of education meeting. The borough council will need to vote on it, presumably at its next meeting on Dec. 2.

Board of Education President Trisha Horner complimented Gangemi on the handling of the lockdown on Nov. 21. “It was scary, but the children were very safe,” she said.

The lockdown was ordered by the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department after the suspect, Miguel Angel Villegas, fired on police and good Samaritans who had come to help after the vehicle he was in hit another car and a tree on North Green Street (Route 539) and Third Avenue in Tuckerton. Villegas ran from the scene, according to police. This led to a massive manhunt in which multiple law enforcement agencies responded. The suspect was able to get away after calling an Uber and was captured in New York’s Penn Station terminal later that evening.

At the school, children were safely contained in their classrooms until the State Police and the Ocean County SWAT team released them at the end of their school day around 3 p.m.

The offering of an armed police officer in the school was met with appreciation, especially from board member Jennifer Quintenz, who had advocated for some kind of police presence in the school so children could have a favorable experience with law enforcement.

Gangemi said an existing patrol officer would fill the school position, but the officer would need school resource officer training for which the school board would pay an addition $350. Resource officers have a different approach in their job; they must be comfortable around and interacting with children, she said.

“It will be the same police officer every day. He’ll be armed and in uniform,” said Gangemi.

The board roughly discussed duties. The officer would be present when the buses and parents discharge the children at the start of the day and again at the end of the day when students are leaving. In addition, the board is considering expanding the TEAM drug, alcohol and anti-bullying training to all grades. At present TEAMS is only part of the sixth grade curriculum. The school resource officer would be in charge of that. TEAMS is a program developed by the Little Egg Harbor Police Department to replace the DARE program.

The superintendent also noted that she had talked with the borough about posting an officer in the school last year and the borough had offered posting an officer for three hours a day with a school board contribution of $28,000. “It’s weird how this all came together,” she said.

The assigned officer would be subject to all the policies and regulations of the Tuckerton Police Department including the hiring of the officer, firing and disciplinary measures. If the superintendent or board is unhappy with a particular officer, they can request a different officer.

The borough will have to hire a Class II officer to replace the duties of the officer assigned to the school.

In other news, a new board member was sworn in. David Colapietro had written a letter expressing his interest in the position; one of his children attends the school. A second board member is still needed and the person who received the most write-in votes for the position in the November election will be contacted by the Ocean County Board of Elections to see if he or she is interested. There were 33 write-in votes and the person with the highest number (five) will be contacted. If that person declines then the board is able to assign a board member.

Also at the board meeting, Gangemi said she had taken a lot of heat about a head lice story reported in The SandPaper after the October board meeting. She was critical of a radio station, which, she said, had reported there was “an epidemic in the school and parents were up in arms over it.”

At the beginning of the school year, all elementary schools search for head lice, but the school’s policy to not discharge children if they only have nits (lice eggs) is endorsed by the National Association of School Nurses, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the New Jersey Department of Health, said the superintendent. Nits are not contagious and even live head lice are not usually contagious in a school setting because to be passed to another requires close head contact. Lice are passed by the sharing of combs, brushes, scarves and hats.

The “no nit” policy adopted by other districts is disruptive to the child’s educational progress as the child could be required to stay out of school up to a week or more, according to literature Gangemi provided.

“It is the position of the National Association of School Nurses that the management of head lice in the school setting should not disrupt the educational process. Evidence-based strategies include abandoning ‘no-nit’ school policies, allowing children to remain in class and participate in school-sponsored activities when live lice or nits are found on their heads, notifying parents/caregivers at the end of the school day when findings indicate the presence of a head lice infestation and educating the parents/caregivers about evidence-based treatment options,” the association states.

The school-wide head inspection by Lice Lifters in October had found fewer than 10 cases and parents had received instructions on the treatment and there has not been a case since, said Gangemi.

“All the hubbub was from one parent,” she added.

The board also approved applying for the state’s Preschool Expansion Program for the 2020-2021 school year.

— Pat Johnson



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