Again last week in the North Carolina General Assembly our Interim committees and Select committees were in full swing. The first meeting of the House Select Committee on School Safety was held on Wednesday. As a member of the committee, I was very interested in how we would proceed on this extremely important subject. It turned out to be a very productive all day meeting.
We heard presentations form the Task Force on Safer Schools, the State Bureau of Investigation, N.C. Emergency Management, the N.C. School Psychological Association, and Meridian Behavioral Health Services. We also heard from a teacher who is Vice-Chair of the Task Force for Safer Schools about the SPKUP NC reporting app, and from two students about their perspectives on school safety. I gained additional information on things we are already doing to improve school safety, but more importantly, on things we are not doing or could be doing better.
After these presentations and extensive questions from the committee, we went into a discussion in the form of what we in business used to call “brainstorming”. Almost every committee member offered ideas for us to consider. No idea was discarded, and a long list was made right in front of the committee room.
One of our members had an interesting perspective on the process we are entering into. He said we needed to focus on immediate short-term solutions to limit access to the schools, and on long-term solutions on prevention and intervention in cases of behavioral issues and mental illness.
I was able to offer examples and suggestions from the procedures in Brunswick County. Our Sheriff’s Department has placed a School Resource Officer (SRO) in every public school. This has been the case since the Monday after the Sandy Hook shooting. There are also multiple ways that access is limited, such as being buzzed into the front door, magnetic passes for teachers to let classes into buildings, indicator lights when exterior doors are left open, instant communication with the Sheriff’s Department, and others. We are ahead of most counties in the state. I believe some of our officers and school leadership may be asked to testify to our committee. No system is perfect, and I believe we always have to keep improving with new technology, training, and procedures. I was also pleased at the spirit of cooperation, concern, and collegiality across party lines to seek solutions instead of playing politics in front of the media.
Interestingly enough, I was able to communicate with Chairman Charlie Miller of the Board of Education, who is also Chief Deputy of the Sheriff’s Dept. both during the meeting and afterward. I look forward to sharing what we are doing with our Teacher Advisory Council Chairperson, who is our Teacher of the Year, and with the TAC, if she so chooses. As I predicted before the meeting, I believe we will have comprehensive legislative proposals to present in the short session beginning in May.
Early Thursday morning I was able to share with the Southwest Mayors, meeting in Shallotte, some of what we are considering on school safety issues, and listen to their concerns on this and other topics.
Thursday and Friday, Brunswick County was visited by the N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore and House Majority Whip Jon Hardister. They were speaking at political events here, but we were able to show them some of the local beach renourishment, the coastal economic progress, and of course our seafood and southeastern cooking.