Cherry Hill assigns armed police officers to schools in aftermath of Parkland

Cherry Hill parent Beth Taubman (right) pauses with others attending the Cherry Hill School Board meeting Feb. 27, during a moment of silence for the victims of the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

In the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., school shootings and an uproar over whether Cherry Hill’s schools are safe, Cherry Hill Township officials said Friday that armed police officers will be assigned full-time to the schools starting Monday morning.

Another change is that all visitors will have to make appointments and bring photo identification before entering the schools.

The Parkland shootings, in which 17 people were killed, galvanized students across the country to stage protests and demand action and new laws to make their classrooms safer. In Cherry Hill, more than 100 parents and students attended two meetings with school officials this week to express their worries about security and question why a popular teacher was suspended for raising similar concerns in the classroom.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Cherry Hill High School East senior Sammy Miller addresses the Cherry Hill school board during its Feb. 27 meeting.

Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn said between seven and 10 armed officers would be deployed to patrol the district’s 19 schools and would remain there until at least the end of the school year on June 19. “Our schools are safe, but our goal is to make our schools safer, and not just with the presence of police officers, but with a multifaceted approach,” he said.  The district has about 11,300 students in grades K-12.

Cahn said the police chief and township officials reached out to the school district with the offer and the district agreed to accept it.

In the past, the school board had decided against having armed officers in the schools and had hired two unarmed resource officers for each of its two high schools. “That was their board policy, but I think the world has changed the last couple of months,” Cahn said.

Barbara Wilson, a spokeswoman for the district, said that the four resource officers are certified to carry weapons and that the board may consider changing its policy to authorize them to do so after hearing from the public and meeting on Tuesday. She said the resource officers have been on duty at the schools for more than a decade.

Wilson declined to comment on whether the outcry over the teacher who was suspended played a role in bringing about the changes in school security. “It’s a personnel matter,” she said.

Cherry Hill High School East history teacher Timothy Locke told students after the Parkland massacre that he questioned whether the security at their own school was adequate. In an interview, Locke later said, “The bottom line is that I was very concerned about the security at my school.”

Another security protocol that will be implemented at the schools, effective Monday, will be that all family members of students will be required to present photo identification and the student identification numbers of their children before they are admitted to the schools.

The special school board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium at Cherry Hill High School West.