Legislative panel endorses funds for school officers, other measures

By: Kari Travis - Carolina Journal

RALEIGH — The Physical Safety and Security working group — a subset of the House Select Committee on Safer Schools — met briefly Wednesday, May 2 to approve recommendations on improving school security.

Seven recommendations — from more money for school resource officers to vulnerability assessments of school facilities — will go to the full committee for consideration. The full committee meets May 10.

Before voting on the recommendations, lawmakers heard about increasing penalties for students who threaten schools. Kimberly S. Robb, a district attorney and president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, gave a brief presentation on how the severity of felonies or misdemeanors could be stiffened for intentional school threats or bringing a firearm on school grounds.

Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, questioned whether increasing these penalties would have made any difference in the shooting at a Parkland, Florida school.

Probably not.

“If somebody doesn’t care about a felony charge, then it’s not going to make a difference,” Robb said.

The working group opted to continue looking into the possibility of increasing penalties in future meetings, instead of recommending the idea to the full committee.

“No one in this room wants to give a minor a felony unless its absolute,” Committee Chairman Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said.

Of the recommendations approved, most of them revolve around SROs. During the most recent meeting, presenters discussed the security role and how more extensive, realistic training is needed.

One recommendation from the working group proposes setting clear standards for training and continuing education requirements for SROs. Draft legislation would require the N.C. Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission and the N.C. Sheriffs Education and Training Standards Commission to work with the Center for Safer Schools to establish what that training would look like.

Another recommendation calls for local education boards to report annually on the number and placement of SROs to the Center for Safer Schools.

The working group also proposed an additional $1.8 million in SRO grants for middle and elementary schools. Numerous schools are without an SRO of their own and often have to share an officer with their neighbors.

Lawmakers suggested further studies on expanding the volunteer SRO program, which has gained momentum since Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page announced plans to implement the program to address shortages in his county.

Other recommendations include requiring charter schools, regional schools, and UNC lab schools to develop a school safety plan and hold drills. Schools may also be required to complete a facility vulnerability assessment for every building at least once a year.

Kari Travis is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.

Kari Travis

Carolina Journal