Despite emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, North Carolina public schools continue to experience increased incidences of crime, violence, and suspensions, according to data from the NC Department of Public Instruction.

A DPI report released at the end of January showed that public schools reported 13,193 acts of crime and violence in the 2022-2023 school year, an 18% jump from 11,170 incidences in 2021-2022.

Instances of students’ possessing a controlled substance spiked in particular, up nearly 36%, while possession of a weapon ticked down slightly with a decrease of around 4%. Possession of a controlled substance means a student either possessed or had in their immediate control any amount of drugs such as marijuana, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, or cocaine.

The trendlines are even more worrisome when compared to pre-pandemic rates. There were 4,850 instances of crime and violence in high schools for the 2018-2019 school year, compared to 7,075 in 2022-2023. That’s a 46% jump.

Meanwhile, suspensions were up across the board: 247,452 short-term suspensions in 2022-2023 compared to 217,928 the previous year, and 708 long-term suspensions compared to 693. Sixty-four students were expelled in 2022-2023, up from 48 in 2021-2022.

“This report demonstrates that our schools are meticulously tracking this data in an effort to curb safety incidents, which is a necessary step in continuing to develop and refine safety improvement programs within schools … We know that school safety is an essential condition for effective teaching and learning,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt in a statement.

“That crime, violence, and suspensions are up in North Carolina public schools is unsettling for educators, students and parents. The question is: what to do about it?” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “We must make our schools more safe without turning them into fortresses. We also need to empower parents with the ability to choose a school environment that’s safe and right for their child.”

The state legislature approved a bill last session that requires public schools to have “threat assessment teams,” safety exercises, and student support programs.

Republican lawmakers also weighed a measure, House Bill 187, aimed at shoring up discipline issues in public schools.

Under current statutory law, a series of non-serious violations for school conduct include “the use of inappropriate or disrespectful language, noncompliance with a staff directive, dress code violations, and minor physical altercations that do not involve weapons or injury.” H.B. 187 strikes that language and leaves the determination of what conduct constitutes a major or minor offense up to school principals.

The bill passed the state House in a largely party-line vote but wasn’t taken up by the Senate.

The annual School Pulse Panel, a survey published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences, reports that more than eight in 10 public schools “have seen stunted behavioral and socioemotional development in their students because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”