Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

How long are we going to wait for legislation to stop school violence?

Last month, Chip Grabow and Lisa Rose from CNN reported that the United States has had 57 times as many school shootings as the rest of the industrialized nations combined.  Let me repeat that because it is not a typo – 57 times.

The United States is averaging one shooting each week in schools for the first five months of 2018.  The names of the schools and the victims remain at the forefront of our memories; Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Santa Fe High School, and Marshall County High School. The list for me begins back in 1999 at Columbine High School.

We remember the shooters’ names: Klebold, Harris, Lanza, and Cruz. And locally, we grieve the loss of Najee Baker, the Winston Salem State University football player shot and killed at a party on the campus of Wake Forest University.

In her May 2018 article published in The Atlantic, Barbara Bradley Hagerty looks at the current policies in place to identify and stop troubled children from committing violent crimes in schools. She quotes Dewey Cornell, a psychologist at the University of Virginia who worked closely with the Secret Service and the FBI.

Children outside the U.S. “don’t have access to AR-15s or Glocks or other weapons that our kids have access to. That’s a huge glaring obvious problem. It’s obvious to scholars in the field. It’s obvious to folks in other countries. For some reason it’s not obvious to our politicians.”  

While gun control is one issue many people believe is the answer to reducing the number of deaths from violent acts, another point Hagerty brings up is the fact that many of the assailants share their plans before they commit a crime. Police are not able to arrest someone for having illegal, dangerous thoughts. They can only take action once a crime has been committed.

Hagerty also cites Jeff Daniels, a professor of counseling at West Virginia University who has studied school shootings. Daniels reports “The FBI has found that in four out of five cases, the shooter told someone about his plans or revealed his intentions on social media.”

This brings the conversation of support personnel in schools to the forefront of this national crisis. In North Carolina, the Subcommittee on Student Health has released findings that the ratio of school psychologists to students in the 2016-2017 academic year was 1:1857 despite the fact that the recommended ratio of school psychologists to students is 1:700.

Also, the ratio of students to school social workers is 1:400. However, the current ratio in North Carolina is 1:1427. The report continues with disturbing ratios. For example, the recommended ratio for student to school nurses is 1:750 while the current ratio in North Carolina is 1:2315.

So what is being done in North Carolina? In the short session of the General Assembly, there are three bills that have been filed and acted on. HB933 was unanimously passed in the House on first reading, but most recently failed to pass in the House after amendments were added by the Senate. HB933 directs the State Board of Education to grant a license to an individual who holds a nationally certified school psychologist credential. This bill is the result of the recommendations from the House Select Committee on School Safety due to the increasing shortage of psychologists in North Carolina schools.  

The other bills are HB962 and SB720. These bills would require charter, regional, laboratory, and other non-public schools to develop a school risk management plan with local law enforcement and emergency management agencies. These bills came from recommendations of the Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee. As a public school teacher and parent, I applaud these efforts and I urge us all to invite Legislators to continue their bipartisan support of school safety legislation.

There are several bills that were introduced in the long session which are eligible for consideration during this short session. HB285 supports suicide prevention awareness, HB725 directs the Department of Public Instruction to study funding for mental health support in schools, and HB174, the most controversial bill, would allow handguns on school grounds outside school hours.

As bills are being filed and debated, many in the House, I urge lawmakers to keep our students at the center of the debate and put political strategy aside. Fund per pupil spending for all students to have full access to psychologists, social workers and nurses so we do not have to mourn another Najee Baker or join the list with the now infamous schools where these terrible tragedies have occurred.

How long do we wait?  

Sadly, as this piece is published, we mourn the shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana. This time.

Marci Harvey

Marci Harvey was a 2014 Forsyth County Teacher of the Year semifinalist. She joined the science faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2017 after serving Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools for 20 years. Harvey is also a 2017-18 NC Teacher Voice Fellow with the Hope Street Group.