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Saturday April 1st

Local districts struggle for safety as the school shooting epidemic plagues the U.S.

Parents of Carrboro Elementary School children walk with them to class. /DTH
Buy Photos Parents of Carrboro Elementary School children walk with them to class. /DTH

Santa Fe. Parkland. Sandy Hook. Columbine. As the list of school shootings in the United States grows ever longer, administrators across the country are faced with the question of how to prevent them.

As they hold their own conversations, Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) are requesting increased funds to go toward security in schools.

The CHCCS Board of Education is asking the Orange County Board of Commissioners for $159,000 for middle school and $219,000 for high school mental health support, which would go toward hiring additional psychologists and social workers and establishing a central behavioral support structure. Rani Dasi, chairperson of the CHCCS School Board, believes this is their most helpful tool in directly combating school violence.

“In the short term, the thing we think we can most directly influence is the support that we give to our students and teachers around mental health,” Dasi said.

Along with CHCCS, Orange County Schools will see if their request for additional school security funding is approved in a budget by the Board of Commissioners in June. 

Stephen Halkiotis, chairperson of the Orange County Schools Board of Education, said the Board would use this funding to enhance their current security, which already includes school resource officers (SROs) at every school. Currently, Orange County Schools is introducing security systems in schools which require visitors to state their business at the school and show ID when checking out a child. Halkiotis said this measure is part of their goal to make schools safe, closed campuses. 

“Safety is something that is paramount in our concerns,” Halkiotis said. “We know quite well that parents want their children to come home in the same shape that they left home for in the morning to go to school.”

Part of the contentious debate surrounding school shootings and school safety deals with SRO employment and how these officers both affect students and protect them from school safety threats. 

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said there needs to be a shift in the mindset of how officers perceive being an SRO. Schools should have younger, engaged police officers who are specially trained and recognized for the important job they have, Blackwood said.

“Every officer is not meant to be an SRO,” Blackwood said. “But I don't think we should look at an SRO as a second-class officer or one who just retired and making his time. I think it needs to be one that's revered as a well-trained, well-educated officer who's engaged and doing the job of taking care of the kids in that school.”

While SROs are one component of school safety, Dasi said the CHCCS School Board wrote to their elected officials for support on "common sense gun laws" in addition to pushing for mental health initiatives both in and outside of schools.

“I think we need to establish stronger support structures in our communities around physical and mental health for families and students," Dasi said. "I think there's a sense of community that needs to be rebuilt in some ways, and we need to help people understand their connectedness and that they're not alone in what they're going through.”

In combating school shootings, Blackwood said parents, teachers, administrators and local law enforcement all need to work together, but he does not believe it is possible to fully solve the problem of school shootings.

“For our kids to have to worry about that every day is troubling to me, and as a society, it's become the norm," Blackwood said. "That's a sad commentary on this world that our children can't go to school and get an education without worrying about where the guards are, or where the doors are locked, or whether somebody's going to come in and start shooting them.” 

The Orange County School Board continually looks for ways to enhance school security, Halkiotis said. In a time and place in which we are fortifying our schools like military fortresses, he said, schools must be constantly vigilant and aware. 

“It's a huge undertaking, but the demands being made on schools today are greater than ever before in the history of this country,” Halkiotis said. “We've got an epidemic of people doing bizarre things and seemingly not understanding that there are serious consequences. It's almost like life has become a video game, and you press restart and everybody that you slaughtered on the video screen comes back to life and you can start over again. That's not what life is all about.”

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