NJ Legislation Offers Comprehensive Plan to Address School and Community Violence

April 23, 2024

Saturday, April 20, 2024, marked the 25th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, which claimed the lives of 12 students and one teacher. The day before, on Friday, April 19, 2024, a vigil was held in the victim's honor, during which legislators, family members of the victims, and advocates reflected on the tragedy.

Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel, a sophomore who excelled in math and science, was killed at Columbine, organized the vigil and was one of many individuals who spoke at the event. As reported in the Saturday, April 20, 2024 publication of The Star Ledger, Mauser successfully led the campaign to pass a ballot measure requiring background checks for all firearm buyers at gun shows in 2000 after Colorado's legislature failed to change the law.

Following the Columbine tragedy in 1999, NJAMHAA worked to develop a comprehensive plan to address the issue of school and community violence, which is now part of legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35th District), Bill A622, which would establish the "Safe Schools and Communities Violence Prevention and Response Plan Act of 2023."

Under the legislation, each New Jersey county superintendent of schools would be required to employ a violence prevention specialist, who would develop a safe schools and communities prevention and response plan in collaboration with local community mental healthcare providers, school administrators, teachers, school resource officers, school safety specialists, guidance counselors, child study teams, and parents. The plans would include the creation of prevention and early intervention teams, which would be comprised of the violence prevention specialist and three to four mental health specialists assigned by the Department of Human Services' (DHS') Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), from local mental health provider organizations. Each team would be required to work with the county superintendent of schools and individual school districts to develop the plan and to provide training and technical assistance.

Statewide guidelines, training materials, consultation and technical assistance for the schools and communities' violence prevention and response plans would be developed and updated annually for school districts and violence prevention specialists, by a qualified mental health organization with a statewide presence and expertise in mental health treatment, training, advocacy, and creating public awareness.

NJAMHAA urges individuals and organizations to advocate for this legislation to help ensure New Jersey schools and communities are as safe as they can be.

Click here to access the legislation itself and for more information.

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