News: CJ Exclusives

Civics educations, school safety bills pass House committee

A requirement for every North Carolina public school student to learn about civic responsibility is one step closer to becoming law after an education committee approved the bill.

House Bill 73, the civic responsibility education requirement bill, was one of two school safety bills to get the stamp of approval from the House K-12 Education Committee during the Tuesday, Feb. 26 meeting. Committee members also approved House Bill 76, which would implement a variety of school safety measures if passed.  

The bills were two of many which came out of the House Select Committee on School Safety.

North Carolina lawmakers created the committee in response to the Feb. 14, 2018 mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland, Florida. Since then the committee has recommended several school safety measures, ranging from more funding for school resource officers to boosting mental health support for students.

If passed, H.B. 73 would direct the State Board of Education to include civic responsibility into the history and geography curriculum for elementary and middle school, as well as in the high school course on the Founding Principles of the United States of America and the State of North Carolina.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, a primary sponsor of the bill, described it as requiring the same kind of civic lessons he and many of his fellow lawmakers learned growing up.

The lesson plan on civic responsibility would include teaching about respect for school personnel, responsibility for school safety, providing meaningful service to others, and engaging in good citizenship.

Terry Stoops, the vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said the bill sponsors may be well-intentioned, but that doesn’t mean requiring civic lessons in the curriculum is the right move.

“I suspect that most North Carolinians agree that children should learn more about civic responsibility,” Stoops said. “But it does not necessarily follow that the General Assembly should pass a law that compels public schools to teach it.”

Stoops said there’s no guarantee public schools will even teach civics in a way that respects the intent of the bill sponsors.

“Lawmakers should mandate curriculum content sparingly. Occasionally, legislative mandates may be necessary to correct an egregious oversight,” Stoops said. “Yet, frequent additions to the curriculum may open the door to future legislation that requires public school educators to teach more controversial content.”

H.B. 73 wasn’t the only bill approved during the house education committee. H.B. 76 also got the stamp of approval.

Rep. Donna White, R-Johnston, said lawmakers, education officials, and school safety experts worked collaboratively to come up with the provisions included in H.B. 76.

“The tragedy of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Charlotte and others brought the work of the North Carolina Safer Schools Center, the Governor’s task force since 2013, and the House Select Committee on Safer Schools to center stage,” White said.

H.B. 76 would require every public school to hold at least one school intruder drill annually and provide schematic diagrams and emergency access to school buildings for local law enforcement agencies. The bill also calls for the creation of school crisis kits, which would include a first aid supplies and communication devices to assist in the case of a schoolwide emergency.

Additionally, H.B. 76 allows for the voluntary participation of nonpublic schools in school safety drills, clarifies the duties of the Center for Safer Schools, directs school districts to create threat assessment teams for their schools, and defines training requirements for school resource officers. The bill also requires every public school to at least once annually undergo a vulnerability assessment.

The training requirements for SROs includes training on mental health, students with disabilities, crisis intervention, and de-escalation. Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, asked whether training on cultural diversity would be included. Rep. White said that wasn’t in the bill, but an amendment would be welcomed down the line.