NC lawmakers get earful of ideas on school safety

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- State lawmakers on Wednesday heard from experts, educators, and students about making North Carolina schools safer.

A new bipartisan committee met for the first time and for the most part listened to what was already on the books in the way of safety.

"Keeping schools safe is not a one-sized-fits-all proposition," said Kym Martin, director of the NC Center for Safer Schools. "There's not one single measure that will magically transform a school into a sanctuary of learning that our students deserve."

Martin was one of the presenters along with a number of law enforcement personnel and mental health experts.

"I don't think anybody would disagree that there are significant mental health issues in schools," said Dr. Jim Deni, of the North Carolina Psychology Association. "We have them on university campuses. We have them in adult populations so mental health is a huge piece."

There were more than 40 slides' worth of content that presenters showed to the general assembly.

"It isn't the same as it was when we were kids," said Caroline Daily, an eighth-grade teacher in Johnston County and vice chair of the task force for safer schools. "When technology came into play along with the Internet, we loaded the schools up with computers and we should have. When curriculums weren't what we wanted, they changed but when the emotional needs of our students changed, we hadn't done a thing."

Daily helped put into place STAMP or the Student Tutoring and Mentoring Program, which she wants applied in all districts in the state.

She said this way students are able to take time out of their day to talk about real issues. Daily said each teacher has a group of students and the students have a mentor that moves up with them as they get older.

"We haven't been reaching them so at some point education and our ability to take tests at the end of the year needs to take a backseat sometimes," Daily said. "We actually need to talk to these kids because nobody else is."

Toward the end of the afternoon, two high school students came to the podium with concrete ideas for school safety including putting armed gates at student parking lots, installing bullet proof glass on school windows and having their student IDs be used as key cards in the way a card is used at a hotel.

"No student should ever feel unsafe in their sanctuary of education," said Riley Barnes of Clayton HS. "No teacher should ever have to fear in their workplace. It is an undeniable, fundamental right that I feel secure in my sanctuary of education."

Sarah Wallace Strickland, from Lakewood HS, presented before Barnes. She noted a problem with school resources officers.

"Each school from rural to more urban areas face different problems with SROs," she said. "At my school we have one SRO for five schools which is a real problem because the schools can be spread out over 20 minutes."

The committee jotted some recommendations down at the end of the day which include looking into fundraising grants for more school resource officers as well as stronger penalties for those who make threats on schools.
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