News

Two months after Rolesville High, Wake leaders want to rethink role of campus cops

Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes

Nearly two months after a video of a violent altercation between a school resource officer (SRO) and a Rolesville high schooler spurred outrage, a small panel of Wake County leaders urged a fundamental rethinking of on-campus cops’ role, as well as a greater investment in school counselors, nurses and mentors.

Panel members—addressing an estimated 150 or so Wake residents who packed Rolesville Town Hall Thursday night—suggested school leaders should reduce the growing role SROs play in U.S. schools today, a trend critics blame for exacerbating teen arrests and the so-called “school to prison pipeline.”

“If we want to make an investment in school resource officers, we should limit their role to what it started off being, which is to protect and serve,” said Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes.

In addition to Holmes, Thursday’s panel of Wake leaders included Sheriff Donnie Harrison, Board of Education Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler, District Court Judge Craig Croom and Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles.

The forum convened with an internal investigation still ongoing into the Jan. 3 incident at Rolesville High School, in which SRO Ruben De Los Santos of the Rolesville Police Department slammed a teenage girl to the ground during a campus fight. According to media reports, the teen was attempting to break up the fight.

A video of the incident went viral in the hours that followed, sparking criticism from a host of community leaders, as well as the ACLU of N.C. It comes amid a growing contingency of researchers, advocates and groups like the non-partisan Congressional Research Service questioning the use of SROs in U.S. schools.

And at least one unidentified man who spoke Thursday was still palpably angry over the January altercation.

Rolesville Police Chief Bobby Langston declined to comment on the investigation, although he urged patience from members of the community.

“It’s an unfortunate situation that occurred, but everybody is due a due process,” said Langston.

In addition to criticism of the officer, some community leaders have endorsed a spate of reforms, including greater training for SROs and tweaking of the school system’s agreements with 10 local law enforcement agencies, including Rolesville police, serving in Wake schools.

Some protesters argued campus police officers should be removed from schools altogether, citing research that indicates their presence increases the chances students will leave high school with a criminal record.

And, although she stopped short of backing wholesale removal of SROs from schools, Holmes said Thursday that leaders must take stock of the data.

“In the old days, kids would get into a fight in the cafeteria and it would mean a trip to the principal’s office,” said Holmes. “Nowadays, that same kid gets into a fight in the cafeteria and they get handcuffed.”

For some, the controversy over school police has re-energized advocates behind the “Raise the Age” movement. As Holmes pointed out Thursday, North Carolina is one of just two states in the U.S. that charges 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults.

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Commentary

Conservative hypocrisy front and center again on issue of state employees and job tenure

This morning’s big story in Raleigh’s News & Observer concerns the actions of Pat McCrory to make hundreds of political appointees into career state employees right before he left office.

This is from reporter Colin Campbell’s story, “Before leaving office, McCrory protected 908 state jobs from political firings”:

  • After McCrory took office in 2013 as the first Republican governor in decades, the legislature raised the number of positions the governor had the power to exempt to 1,500.
  • McCrory didn’t use all of those slots. At the beginning of last November, he had classified 1,212 jobs as exempt from the protections.
  • As part of a series of moves in December to reduce Cooper’s appointment powers, the Republican-dominated legislature lowered the maximum to 425 positions.
  • By the end of December, McCrory had changed 908 jobs to give them Personnel Act protections. Of those, 105 positions were vacant and 803 had employees who gained the protections. McCrory’s administration had hired 124 of the affected employees, while 679 had been working in state government before McCrory took office in 2013, according to the Office of State Human Resources.

On of the greatest ironies in this development, of course, is that conservatives have long crusaded against protected career status for workers (i.e. the right to be fired only for “good cause”) — be they educators seeking “tenure” or private sector employees combating the doctrine of “employment at will.” Here’s the Pope-Civitas Institute commenting on a so-called education reform bill passed by the General Assembly a few years’ back:

“While this legislation was important, the most significant provision to improve teacher quality was approval of legislation to eliminate teacher career status”

Funny isn’t it, how those same groups are now utterly silent about the actions of a conservative governor to provide similar protections to hundreds of favored state employees — at least one of whom was, according to the N&O, you guessed it, a former Civitas employee.

Environment

NC DEQ and Attorney General withdrawing from Clean Power Plan lawsuit

Duke Energy is retiring its coal-fired electricity plant in Asheville, switching it over to natural gas. Many of the states suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan were already on track to meet their reductions goals. (Photo: Duke Energy)

For once, North Carolina wants to quit a lawsuit rather than file or join one.

Late yesterday afternoon NC Attorney General Josh Stein announced he has asked a federal district court to allow the state to withdraw from a lawsuit against the EPA over the Clean Power Plan.
Stein acted on behalf of DEQ Secretary Michael Regan.

Regan’s decision is to be expected, both philosophically and fiscally. His former employer, the Environmental Defense Fund, defended the Clean Power Plan, which empowered the EPA to regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. However, states could devise their own methods of decreasing those emissions, based on goals set by the EPA. The CPP is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and if not reversing, at least stalling, the disastrous effects of climate change.

Withdrawing from the lawsuit also makes financial sense. First, the CPP is still embroiled in the courts, and the legal bills add up. Secondly, the Trump administration has promised to dismantle the CPP. So to fight the plan in court could be redundant.

“We are working to assess our agency and its challenges so we can better position ourselves to meet our greatest priorities going forward,” Regan said in a prepared statement. “We feel that pursuing this potentially expensive legal challenge is not a good use of state resources, would not be in line with our agency’s mission to protect the environment, and would not serve the best interest of taxpayers.”

In 2015, former DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart had joined more than two dozen states in suing the EPA. They alleged that the agency’s actions were unconstitutional because it doesn’t have the authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. Then-Attorney General Roy Cooper declined to pursue the suit, leaving legal representation to DEQ.

Commentary

Editorials: So-called repeal of HB2 doesn’t get the job done

The editorial pages of two major newspapers added their names this morning to the long and growing list of critics of the so-called repeal legislation for HB2 that was introduced in the state House this week.

Here’s the Charlotte Observer

“Opinions are flying about [the proposal] but here are the facts:

  • It provides no protections for LGBT citizens.
  • It bans cities from passing “bathroom” provisions of any kind.
  • It allows cities to pass LGBT protections (minus bathrooms), with 30 days notice, but such ordinances would then be put to a public vote if opponents round up enough signatures.
  • It expands protected classes for employment and housing discrimination, but that expansion does not include LGBT citizens.

In summary, if this bill becomes law, LGBT discrimination will be legal. People who look like men would be required to use the women’s room. And LGBT minority rights will be at the mercy of a majority vote. Basic human rights should not be up for a vote.

That’s why we doubt it would bring back the NCAA, the ACC, the NBA and others who are crossing the state off their lists. Those organizations have said they don’t want to do business in a state that sanctions LGBT discrimination. North Carolina still would.”

And here’s the Fayetteville Observer:

“It’s heartening to see a bipartisan group of state representatives sponsor a bill to repeal the state’s “bathroom bill,” HB2. Unfortunately, bipartisanship is the best thing it has going for it….

The measure would give the state regulatory authority over bathrooms with multiple toilets and locker rooms. It would expand a statewide nondiscrimination law, but still exclude protection for sexual orientation or identity.

And while the measure would allow cities to pass anti-discrimination ordinances that cover LGBT people, they would be required to hold a referendum if opponents gathered enough signatures. Submitting civil rights to a popular vote is not a wise precedent. Nobody should have to face discrimination because of who or what they are, and it’s regrettable that this state won’t stand up for that principle.

We hope members of both parties continue to seek ways to repeal this destructive law, but we’re beginning to believe that in the end, federal courts will settle it.”

“A bipartisan group of lawmakers has put forth a modification of HB2, House Bill 186. Though the measure would repeal HB2, it would still make it too difficult for local governments to install anti-discrimination ordinances and would not include sexual orientation and gender identity in a statewide nondiscrimination law. This law may be better than HB2, but is far from an outright repeal, which is what is needed.”
News

House GOP advances school funding task force, rejects calls to guarantee diverse membership

School busesAs expected, the N.C. House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved draft legislation launching a school funding task force, but only after Republican backers shot down pleas from Democrats to guarantee fair representation on the pivotal panel from both minorities and Democrats.

“There’s no indication we’re going to get off the tracks,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who co-sponsored House Bill 6, which is now bound for the state Senate.

The task force, which would include 18 legislators hand-picked by Senate and House leadership, is tasked with devising recommendations for North Carolina’s entangled method of K-12 funding.

In November, a legislative research office panned the system as unfair to poor counties, students with disabilities and children with limited English proficiency, spurring a call for action from both Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly.

The task force, if approved by the Senate, would be expected to complete a report by October 2018 with recommendations for reforming the multi-category school funding system.

Based on committee and House floor debates thus far, there’s clearly bipartisan support for addressing the funding system, but, given the enormous implications for public schools statewide, House Democrats sought pledges that Republican leaders would be mindful of racial and gender diversity when members were tapped.

That’s because some of the state’s most high-need schools and districts have a disproportionate share of minority students.

“You have to be reminded there are others in your society that have something to contribute,” said Rep. Henry Michaux Jr., a Durham Democrat.  “We don’t want to keep reminding you.”

Democrats also sought unsuccessfully to wring a promise from Republicans that at least three members of the minority party would be chosen for the key task force, which is expected to begin work this October.

While the draft legislation includes promises to consider both urban and rural leaders, as well as at least one Democrat from each chamber, critics wanted Republicans to go a step further.

“This committee is going to make recommendations,” said Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson. “To have a variety of political opinions on that I think would be healthy.”

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