News: Quick Takes

House school safety committee urges action in short session and beyond

The House Select Committee on School Safety approved 14 recommendations to make schools safer.

These recommendations made on Thursday, May 10, include more funding for school resource officers, licensing reciprocity for school psychologists, and requiring peer-to-peer counseling programs in schools.

The school safety committee was created after the mass school shooting Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida. Two subcommittees, one focused on mental health services and the other on physical safety measures, were formed from the full committee.

Committee Chairman Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said this isn’t the end of the process. The committee will continue to work through the short session.

“The steps we take today will have a real improvement in the lives of our students and we’re moving more toward mental health opportunities in the school systems,” Lewis said. “We are focusing not only on the immediate need to protect our children from attackers but to prevent problems from arising in the first place.”

The recommendations follow.

  • North Carolina should accept the national certification for school psychologists as sufficient for licensure to work in the state
  • North Carolina should continue to work to meet the national recommend staffing ratios for school nurses, school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers
  • Threat assessment teams should be required in every public school
  • North Carolina should require peer-to-peer counseling programs in middle and high schools
  • The General Assembly should enact legislation to continue studying how to coordinate school support staff and train them to identify dangerous mental or behavioral health issues
  • Funding should be provided to expand the anonymous tip line app, Speak Up NC to the entire state
  • Study armed security options for nonpublic schools
  • Study the expansion and requirements of a volunteer SRO program
  • Extend mandatory school safety plans and drills to all public schools and encourage nonpublic school participation
  • Implement training and continuing education requirements for SROs
  • Appropriate an additional $1.8 million for grants for SROs
  • Require facility vulnerability assessments for every school building
  • Require local board of educations to report annually on SROs
  • The General Assembly should enact House Bill 285, Suicide Prevention/Awareness School Personnel during the 2018 short session

Included is a measure championed by Rep. MaryAnn Black, D-Durham, which ensures SRO training includes equity and diversity training.

“It’s important to me that as we move forward in keeping our students and educators safe, that we are keeping all students safe,” Black said.

The committee briefly discussed whether to include a recommendation to raise the criminal penalties for students communicating threats to a school or carrying a firearm on school grounds. Several legislators, including Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford and Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, objected to the measure.

“There is a notion we would be saddling these youngsters with a felony record for possibly what would have been an idle, bad day, stupid comment,” Harrison said. “I think this would be a bad idea without further deliberate discussion on this point.”

The committee chose not to include the recommendation to raise penalties in the draft report.

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said he was disappointed the committee failed to discuss guns and “red flag” laws, which would allow law enforcement to seize guns from people deemed dangerous.

“This process has been a necessary discussion, but don’t fool yourself, this bill is nowhere near sufficient,” Jackson said.