Politics & Government

One year after Parkland, NC lawmakers call for more school cops and mental health staff

A mother speaks out about her son, a Harding High School senior who was a victim of gun violence

Lakeker Bright remembers her son, Jamie, who died as a result of gun violence.
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Lakeker Bright remembers her son, Jamie, who died as a result of gun violence.

As the nation marks the anniversary of the Parkland school shooting on Thursday, some North Carolina legislative leaders are pitching a series of proposed laws that they say will make schools and students safer.

Four different bills have been filed that would include measures such as increasing funding for school resource officers and mental health personnel, developing threat assessment teams at schools, screening kids for mental health issues and teaching students to respect school personnel.

The measures were filed Wednesday on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead. The bills were recommended by the House School Safety Committee that was formed in response to the Parkland shooting.

“It is these bills that will bring schools into the 21st Century in the safest possible manner,” Rep. Donna White, a Johnston County Republican, said in a statement.

House Bill 73 would require schools to teach about civic responsibility with the focus on respect for school personnel, responsibility for school safety, service to others and good citizenship.

House Bill 74 would increase the amount for state school safety grants from $30 million last year to $53.19 million this year. The money would cover grants for school resource officers, services for students in crisis, school safety training, safety equipment in schools and school mental health support personnel.

House Bill 75 calls for developing a statewide process for mental health screening of students.

“The mental health screening legislation is a significant step towards securing our schools and helping those students with mental health issues get the help they need,” Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican and co-chairman of the House school safety committee, said in a statement.

House Bill 76 would require public schools to do various things, including ensure training standards and annual reporting for school resource officers and complete vulnerability assessments for school facilities.

The bill would also require each school to establish threat assessment teams that would identify which students are a risk of committing violent acts.

Torbett and Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and co-chair of the safety committee, said those four bills “are the first of many that will come from this General Assembly’s active approach to ensuring every child inside of our schools is safe.”

Peggy Nicholson, director of the Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the bills offer some good steps. But she said the additional funding for school resource officers should go instead toward hiring more school mental health workers.

“I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will be recommendations to increase the number of school resource officers,” Nicholson said. “But it’s important for people to know that the data doesn’t support that.”

The House committee avoided the issue of restricting access to guns in its recommendations. In contrast, a committee formed by Gov. Roy Cooper recommended allowing gun violence protection orders, which open a way for people to ask courts to take guns temporarily from people who present a danger to themselves or others.

The governor’s committee also recommended having a school resource officer in every school in the state.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.