State task force touts 'ambitious,' realistic' plan to keep guns off school campuses: Safer Schools

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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
NC task force touts 'ambitious,' realistic' gun safety plan
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The chair of the North Carolina Task Force for Safer Schools sat down with ABC11 to talk about what's being done to keep kids safe in school.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- In a business park off Hammond Road in Raleigh, William Lassiter sits in a corner office making important decisions that impact the health, safety and well-being of North Carolina's children enrolled in K-12 schools.

"The intent of the task force is that every kid attends a school where they are safe and secure and free from fear," said Lassiter, the chair of the North Carolina Task Force for Safer Schools. "My goal is that we have good, public schools that are safe for all kids."

In 2021, the task force endorsed its five-year agenda for promoting school safety called the North Carolina State Action Plan for School Safety.

According to its publication, the plan "is designed to coordinate North Carolina school safety efforts across state government and with communities and schools so that efforts are efficient and effective and undertaken with accountability and share responsibility."

Halfway through the plan's enforcement, Lassiter referred to its existence as a "living document" that is open to edit.

"It should be ambitious," Lassiter said of the plan. "As 2026 comes around, my vision is this will lead to a new plan. A plan that will embrace with new ideas that are coming down the pike. And we don't have to wait until 2026 to update the plan. And we want to put those new approaches in as they are coming down."

Still, despite the plan, reports of students bringing guns onto school campuses make weekly headlines across the state.

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"What we're finding now is a lot of kids are saying they feel unsafe at school or they feel unsafe on their way to school or on the way home," said Lassiter. "And they felt like they need to have a weapon to protect themselves either in that transport or on that school campus."

According to data provided by Lassiter's office, in the 2022 calendar year, there were more than 12,200 school-based offenses reported to the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, accounting for roughly 34% of all complaints the division received.

"We're trying to prevent guns from coming onto school campuses," Lassiter added. "What we saw on the very first day of school this year was four guns came on school campuses that were brought by kids on those campuses. They were all brought from their parent's home. It was their parent's gun. And the reason why those kids got those parent's gun is because that parent chose not to securely store that firearm in that house."

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Additionally, Lassiter said 36% of instances involve students and their mental health.

"What we try to do is make sure there is not an overreaction to that," he said. "That we're not seeking to stigmatize those kids moving forward as bad kids. They may have made a mistake on that day and so we want to make sure we put in services for those kids to make sure they have accountability for what they did. But at the same time make sure they have an opportunity to come back to the classroom to be successful."

New legislation is also making it possible for teachers to have access to a panic button inside their classroom to make reporting and responding to emergencies more effective for students, staff and faculty.

Districts across the state will be required to make sure their educators have access to this tool later this year.

"We should be pushing the limits to make sure our schools are safe places for our kids to go," Lassiter said.

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