Rates of violent crime and other behavioral problems spiked in recent months as students returned to North Carolina public school classrooms after government-forced closures and remote learning schedules. That’s according to new data presented March 1 to the N.C. State Board of Education.

Rates of disciplinary actions and both short- and long-term expulsions all increased compared to pre-pandemic levels. The data show the state’s drop-out rate edged up as well.

While major categories of offenses declined — including sexual assault, sexual offense, and assault resulting in serious injury — instances of lesser crimes increased. Possession of drugs and weapons both jumped in frequency.

Across all high schools, instances of crime and violence increased from 4,850 reported for the 2018-2019 school year to 5,991 reported for the 2021-2022 school year — a 24% increase.

Racial minorities, low-income students, and males were more likely to face disciplinary action, suspensions, or placements in alternative schools. The data are consistent with other evidence showing that academic declines have been most severe for minorities and low-income students.

“We know that the pandemic and its aftermath have created significant challenges for students, educators and their schools,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt in a statement. “We’re taking aggressive steps to respond this year, and we’re seeking more resources for next year to provide students with the help that they need.”

Truitt pointed to efforts to increase mental-health officers in public schools and add qualified nurses.

“The increase in violent crime and school suspensions is concerning. It’s worth a closer look, but I hope we can resist the temptation to overreact and create a new programs or spend a lot of money,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “We’re dealing with a lot of factors — many of which are new and atypical. While violent crime and long and short-term expulsions increased, the incidence of lesser crimes actually declined. Schools should be equally nuanced and evaluate their own processes and see what’s working and what isn’t. That’s usually where most of the improvements can be gained.”

In January, a report from the U.S. Department of Education concluded that more than eight in 10 public schools “have seen stunted behavioral and socioemotional development in their students because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Eighty-four percent of surveyed public school officials said the pandemic had “negatively impacted the behavioral development of students” in their schools. Thirty-percent reported an increase in bullying as a result of the pandemic, 33% physical attacks between students, and 36% threats of physical attacks or fights between students.

Moreover, 49% reported a jump in student “rowdiness outside of the classroom (e.g., hallways, lunchroom),” 56% “classroom disruptions from student misconduct,” 42% “use of cell phones, computers, other electronics when not permitted,” and 24% vandalism.