By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
North Carolina legislators on Thursday approved a bill to enhance the safety of public schools.
House Bill 452 provides $30 million over a period of two years in matching grants for districts to hire more school resource officers in elementary and middle schools, and more school psychologists, guidance counselors, and social workers. The bill also includes $4 million in grants to put panic buttons in every classroom in the case of an emergency by July 2015.
“Providing safe schools is our first priority in Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS),” said John Farrelly, superintendent of ECPS. “This potential piece of legislation has great promise in aiding our efforts locally and across the state in strengthening the safety of our schools.”
HB 452 also requires each local school administrative unit to have a system-wide school safety and school lockdown exercise at least once every two years, and every school to have a lockdown exercise school safety and lockdown exercise with local law enforcement agencies at least once each year.
Sgt. Al Braxton of the Tarboro Police Department said the department needs and appreciates “any resources we can get as far as helping us to get resource officers in the schools, at least at the middle school level. The chief (Damon Williams) feels like it’s needed and we all feel like it’s needed.”
Braxton said Cpl. Ricky Dozier of the Tarboro PD spends time every week at Martin Middle School and W.A. Pattillo School to “keep an eye on things.”
“That’s been an asset,” Braxton said.
In the week after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Tarboro PD had an officer at every school in the county to help give parents, students and teachers peace of mind. That same week, ECPS had safety drills at all the schools in the district, with the assistance of local law enforcement.
Additionally, the district inspected every school building to identify “at-risk situations,” such as a door failing to lock properly, and corrected those problems, said Farrelly.
HB 452 also calls for each school district to develop an anonymous “tip line” to receive information about internal or external threats to school buildings and school-related activities.
It is unclear whether HB 452 applies only to traditional public schools or to public charter school as well as traditional public schools and calls Friday to the North Carolina Legislature went unanswered.
“We’re hoping that public charter schools are going to be included in that,” said Taro Knight, director of communications/ community outreach for North East Carolina Prep School. “Anything that would give students, parents and staff that added sense of security is welcome,” said Knight. He said the charter school currently does not have a school resource officer and hiring one would cost an estimated $30,000, not including benefits. Despite the lack of a resource officer, Knight said NECP has a “great partnership” with local law enforcement,
“Luckily for us, many of our students’ parents are police officers and they come by when they’re off the clock. We have a law enforcement presence here quite often,” Knight said. Under a new program, a highway patrol officer will begin visiting NECP once a month, as well, said Knight.
Rep. Bryan Holloway (R-Stokes), one of the sponsors of HB 452, said he believed the measure aligns with the efforts of Gov. Pat McCrory, who announced last week the revival and retooling of a school safety center in the Department of Public Safety – the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools.
“It is imperative that we prevent all forms of potential violence. The Center for Safer Schools will develop a comprehensive strategy of best practices throughout the state and country to protect our children, teachers, school administrators and our communities,” McCrory said during a March 19 press conference at Apex.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.