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How can we make schools safer? North Carolinians weigh in

The House Select Committee on School Safety was created in late February following the Parkland shooting and first met in March to examine safety standards and procedures throughout North Carolina’s schools. Most recently, the committee held meetings in towns across the state to hear directly from educators, parents, and students about their perspectives on school safety.

Following the school shooting at Butler High School in Matthews on Oct. 30, Reach NC Voices posed the following question:

On Monday, a school shooting at Butler High School in Matthews resulted in the death of one student. Since March, North Carolina House members with education, law enforcement, and mental health policy backgrounds have worked on a special committee to examine K-12 school safety standards and recommend changes. What would you like them to consider?

We heard from almost 200 North Carolinians who named a range of considerations, including increasing the number of school resource officers (SROs), adding metal detectors to school campuses, and increasing funding for school support staff. All responses were collected between Nov. 1 and Nov. 5, 2018.

Some of these comments are highlighted below, and a full report of comments can be found here. The comments below were occasionally edited for clarity.

School support staff

Some respondents mentioned the need to increase funding for school support staff, including nurses, psychologists, social workers, and counselors. These support staff are charged with ensuring the physical, emotional, behavioral, and social health of students.

In order for schools to best reach all students, and not allow bullying, violence, etc. to slip through the cracks, the state needs to fully fund counselors, mental health specialists, psychologists, and social workers. — An educator in Cleveland County

Funding an adequate number of mental health practitioners in every school in our state. Trauma-informed family therapists for pre-K families who go into the homes to teach healthy child raising, including cooking healthy food, cleanliness, help parents learn how to help their children read, and other skills. Connect to outside support groups so they know they are not alone. — An educator in Rowan County

There is a severe lack of funding for guidance counselors, exceptional children staff, and their support. There are too few people and too many students. Then, after identification, there is a lack of counselors, mental health facilities, and social services staff for these kids. — An educator in Brunswick County

Mental health services! The area programs were not perfect but in our area (McDowell), Foothills Area Program reached out and worked with the schools to meet the needs of students/clients. I have taught students that were participating in therapy with many issues, and it is frustrating to have zero insight on how to help meet the emotional/mental needs. I don’t need personal details but a guide as to what to expect from a student and suggestions as to how to respond when that student displays behaviors. — An educator from McDowell County

School environment and bullying

Some users mentioned things like the school environment and the prevalence of bullying as factors that need to be addressed to ensure school safety.

Safe schools start with a healthy environment. All schools should be mandated to teach social skills, anti-bullying programs, and effective communication strategies in times of stress to all students daily. The school culture should be one of respect for others not just authority and mentally-healthful activities that promote compassion and empathy for all students and staff. — An educator in New Hanover County

Bullying (the bully). Placing a policy that will expel the student after 3rd complaint/offense. Each complaint should be documented both with the classroom and homeroom teacher. — Anonymous user

Consider bringing current teachers into the conversation and to take their knowledge into consideration. Many schools, mine included, downplay bullying because it makes our school “look bad.” — An anonymous user

A statewide anti-bullying app for cell phones so kids can report suspicious behavior anonymously. It works, it’s been fully piloted, and 19 states have. Should have already been in place. — An educator from Harnett County

Physical security

Other users responded with solutions related to the physical security of school campuses, such as improving the school building structure, adding security technologies, and increasing the number of armed individuals on school campuses, be it SROs or otherwise.

They need to consider allowing teachers to conceal-carry. Simply having one school resource on hand is not enough. If celebrities have a half dozen guards with them at all times, and surely we can all agree that our children are more important, then we should make sure they are protected. — Anonymous user

Put more guns in to the hands of law abiding citizens, teachers, admins. Have door fixtures that allow teachers to barricade the door easier. Add something on the door to make it impossible to open easily. Training for teachers and staff to know what a gun sounds like going off indoors, such as shooting blanks from a gun indoors so that staff understands what it sounds like. — Anonymous user

Cameras covering each hall and entrances monitored in the principal’s office, or armed teachers or armed officers. Last but not least, a security system at each entrance to the school. Each should automatically be locked and opened from inside only. Cost should be the last consideration. — Anonymous user

More cameras at all entrances. Make it harder for people to enter the school. Once a person leaves the campus they should show their ID to get back on campus. Have police patrol the campus more often on foot and in their cars. Have volunteers whose ID’s have been checked to patrol campuses. The schools that are in the country need this also, not just cities. — User in Halifax County

Gun control

Other comments mentioned the need for tighter gun control legislation.

Banning semi-automatic weapons, strengthening and enforcing gun registration laws, metal detectors at schools, banning all weapons at schools except for law enforcement. — A user from Durham County

Changing legislation for much stricter gun control laws. — A user from Wake County

Don’t outlaw guns… Just outlaw guns in schools and provide teeth to eliminate automatic weapons as private gun owners will never have more firepower than U.S. Military… Thus why are AK-47 type weapons necessary? — An anonymous user

They are looking at the wrong problem. They need to look at gun registration and ownership. Make background checks mandatory prior to the purchase of a gun and make semi-automatic guns and guns with bump stocks illegal. — An anonymous user

To weigh in on future Reach NC Voices conversations, leave your contact information below.

Analisa Sorrells

Analisa Sorrells is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and previously worked as chief of staff and associate director of policy for EducationNC.