Panel forwards 14 recommendations to make schools safer

By: T.C. Hunter - For The Exchange

RALEIGH — A state House member who represents Scotland County says progress has been made toward making North Carolina schools safer and more will be made.

“I feel confident we will come out of the short session with a product,” said Rep. Garland Pierce of Wagram.

The House Select Committee on School Safety forwarded 14 recommendations on improving school safety after a morning meeting on Thursday. The recommendations cover, among other issues, funding, staffing and training.

Pierce, a Democrat from Wagram whose District 48 covers Scotland, Hoke, Richmond and Robeson counties, is a member of the school safety committee. The select committee that was formed shortly after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February that left 17 people dead.

Pierce said he doesn’t expect all 14 recommendations to be approved during the legislative session that begins Wednesday.

“We’ve got 14 of them. Maybe not all of them will pass,” Pierce said.

The recommendations must be debated in the House and the Senate, he said. And legislative and political issues that can slow progress must be worked through. One complication will be finding funding.

“It’s still about money,” Pierce said.

But, he is hopeful.

Bipartisan support of the school safety issue has been cordial, Pierce said. He believes both parties agree the issue needs to be addressed and solutions crafted.

“It’s been a good process, and I hope it will continue that way,” Pierce said.

Rep. Charles Graham acknowledged that putting forth the 14 recommendations is just the first step in the legislative journey.

“Several meetings were conducted over the past three months. The committee received input from many experts, school professionals, and students,” Graham said in a statement. “As a result of much debate and discussion, recommendations that came from this extensive information are projected to appropriate our taxpayer dollars in a thoughtful manner to improve school safety.”

Finding the money to fund the recommendations is a priority for him, Graham said.

The 14 recommendations are:

1. North Carolina should accept the nationally certified school psychologist credential as complete fulfillment of the requirements for licensure as a school psychologist.

2. North Carolina should continue to work towards a goal of meeting national recommendations for staffing of student support positions to ensure and improve care and intervention for the social and emotional needs of students.

3. North Carolina should require threat assessment teams in all public schools to better assess and intervene in potential threats within the school setting.

4. North Carolina should require peer to peer counseling programs in middle and high schools to identify and assist students with social, emotional, and behavioral needs.

5. Further study is necessary to develop a plan to efficiently coordinate care among mental health support professionals and to train these professionals to identify potentially dangerous mental and behavioral health issues.

6. Funding should be provided for expansion statewide of applications that allow anonymous reporting on potential threats, abuse, or related issues.

7. Study armed security options for nonpublic schools.

8. Study expansion and requirements or volunteer school resource officer program.

9. Extend mandatory safety plan and drill requirement to all public schools and encourage nonpublic school participation.

10. Implement training and continuing education requirements for school resource officers.

11. Appropriate an additional $1.8 million to fund grants for school resource officers.

12. Require facility vulnerability assessments for each school building.

13. Require local boards of education to report annually on school resource officers.

14. House Bill 285, Suicide Prevention/Awareness School Personnel should be enacted.

“These are not insufficient recommendations. Do we need to do more? Of course, we can’t ever do enough to keep our children as safe as we think they should be,” said Rep. Josh Dobson, a McDowell County Republican and leader of a panel subcommittee. “But these are concrete recommendations to keep our schools safer that have received bipartisan support.”

The recommendations, approved without opposition, don’t include a lot of specific funding requests — only about $8 million. Over half of it would go toward a statewide expansion of a pilot program, currently in a few counties, that gives students access to a mobile phone app to anonymously report potential safety threats to authorities.

Lawmakers acknowledged it would take a large investment to meet one of its top proposals — a goal of meeting nationally recommended staff-student ratios for school counselors, psychologists and social workers. State officials told them it would cost more than $500 million a year to meet those standards. The panel’s report doesn’t recommend a specific funding amount for these support workers.

Any changes would have to be voted on by the House and Senate before being sent to Gov. Roy Cooper. His proposed budget adjustments, officially released later Thursday, include $40 million for districts to hire at least 500 additional school nurses, psychologists, social workers and counselors and $10 million for more campus-based police officers. Cooper also wants money for campus security upgrades.


T.C. Hunter

For The Exchange

T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974 or [email protected] The Associated Press contributed to this story.

T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974 or [email protected] The Associated Press contributed to this story.