Funding boost supports commitment to school safety
By Mary Morrell | Contributing Editor
In light of Gov. Phil Murphy’s signing of bill A4597/S3080 Jan. 8, doubling nonpublic school security money, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton are looking to the future as they continue to build safe communities with additional or enhanced school security measures.
Under the bill, religious and private schools in the state will see security funding increase from $75 to $150 per student, for an additional $11.3 million in funding.
“Schools in the Diocese of Trenton have, over the years, used the school security money wisely to fund projects and programs designed to secure our school buildings and our protocols for keeping our students secure,” said Judy Nicastro, diocesan associate director of school services and vice chair of the N.J. Department of Education Nonpublic Advisory Committee.
Nicastro was among those who were present for the signing, along with Frances Koukotas, director of the New Jersey Network of Catholic Families in the Diocese of Trenton, which has long advocated for increased funding for nonpublic schools.
“This additional money will allow that commitment to continue, while increasing the scope of what can be made available to insure the safety of our children,” Nicastro added.
Kimberly Sandomierski, dean of students in Donovan Catholic School, Toms River, underscored that the commitment to safety by schools in the Diocese is made a practical reality through security funding.
In years past, said Sandomierski, “both Donovan Catholic and St. Joseph Grade School, Toms River, have used the nonpublic security money to install and upgrade security cameras, strobe lights and sirens for lock downs, security film for all windows and doors, campus fencing and gates. Donovan Catholic has installed a security check-in area that is equipped with an ID printer that creates a ‘personal visitor pass’ with the individual’s picture printed on it.”
Both schools also share the cost of a full-time Class 3 Toms River Police Department security officer, who is on campus daily when school is in session, Sandomierski noted.
With the increase in funding, she explained, Donovan Catholic plans to replace the public address system, which Sandomierski describes as “a huge expense,” while St. Joseph Grade School plans to upgrade several systems with the latest technology.
The items on the two Ocean County schools’ wish lists are similar to those planned by other schools in the Diocese – increased security services, upgraded equipment and technology that will advance existing safety measures.
Included among those items are equipment for hardening school perimeter and building entryways, screening surveillance and alarm systems, emergency communications and cyber security evaluation, training and upgrading.
Anthony DeLorenzo, director of the diocesan Department of Computer Services, stressed the importance of upgrading cyber security for schools, recalling a cyber threat in 2017 that involved a school in the Diocese. Steps were quickly taken to correct the risk and deepen protection.
In January 2018, in partnership with a cyber security firm, a program was offered on the diocesan, parish and school levels, which runs security on every device provided by the organization. Today, most parishes and schools have end-point protection, meaning mobile devices, laptops and desktop PCs are protected against network security threats, DeLorenzo explained.
“Given the nature of things today, the need for cyber security is not something that’s going away. Children, especially, are more vulnerable than anyone else,” said DeLorenzo, who noted the high incidence of identity theft using children’s information.
One aspect of cyber threats not always considered is the cost.
“The legal and financial implications of a cyber security breach can be devastating to any organization. A limited event can cost more than $75,000 to conduct a thorough forensic investigation and many hundreds of thousands of dollars to notify and protect everyone that may have had their personal information or identity compromised,” explained Joe Cahill, diocesan director of risk management.
“The reputational damage to the organization can be greater and longer lasting than the immediate financial loss associated with a cyber breach. The Diocese has provided the cyber security tools to help parishes and schools minimize the likelihood of a malicious cyber event and provides cyber event insurance coverage to all its entities and organizations to mitigate the potential for serious financial damage,” Cahill said.
Certainly, stressed Nicastro, “School security is at the core of education. In order for children to learn, they must feel safe. This legislation speaks to the commitment to keep all New Jersey school children safe, regardless of where they attend school.”