A state committee established after last year’s shooting at a Florida high school says North Carolina should place a trained police officer in every school, conduct more rigorous threat assessments, and expand funding for mental health services.
Among its recommendations, the panel urged state leaders to fund enhanced mental health training for those school resource officers, or SROs. Officers should also work with schools to prep for an “active shooter” and conduct drills.
The committee also backed the creation of gun violence protection orders, offering a legal process to “temporarily remove guns from a dangerous individual,” Cooper’s office said. State Rep. Maria Morey, a Durham judge turned lawmaker, urged legislators to adopt such a proposal last year.
“When parents send their kids to school they expect them to be out of harm’s way, and we owe it to these kids and their families to make sure our schools are safe environments for learning,” Cooper said in a statement Thursday. “I appreciate the work of this committee and I look forward to continuing to work with them as well as other parents, law enforcement officers and educators to push for safer schools.”
The committee — which included law enforcement, juvenile justice experts, educators and state officials — also urged lawmakers to fund Cooper’s 2018 budget proposal for $55 million in spending on mental health in schools, including cash for more nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers.
It shares some similarities with a much-criticized report finalized last year by Republican lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly, including a focus on mental health in schools, although legislators resisted calls to discuss guns during their sessions, instead pushing for greater civic education and first-aid training for students.
Meanwhile, the Cooper committee is likely to field criticism from advocates who point to emerging evidence that a greater police presence in schools increases the likelihood that students — particularly Black students — will leave school with a criminal offense that might otherwise have prompted school discipline.
School police are also disproportionately called on Black students in schools, data show, feeding what’s referred to by youth justice advocates as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” in which students are siphoned out of schools and into the criminal justice system.
Cooper’s panel urged community dialogue on the SRO controversy, as well as specific guidelines for police activities in schools and improved data collection of school violence.
Other recommendations from the report:
- “Vulnerability assessments” of schools to identify ways to make them safer, including placement of security cameras and alarms
- Development of “multi-disciplinary threat assessment teams” that meet to discuss possible threats
- A statewide tip line for reporting school threats
- Training law enforcement and educators to “communicate more effectively” about school threats
- Work with experts to develop best practices for SROs and educators in “distinguishing the difference between bad behavior and criminal conduct”
The committee began its work last spring, holding five public forums in Greenville and Greensboro. It was co-chaired by Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger and former Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison.