The N.C. Special Committee on School Shootings presented its report on school safety to Gov. Roy Cooper last week, which included 33 recommendations for making North Carolina schools safer.
The committee was formed in April 2018 after events like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that rejuvenated the debate of school safety and gun control nationwide.
The committee has held meetings and public forums, and has consulted with organizations like the North Carolina School Boards Association and the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools.
“The meetings and public forums played critical roles in the SCSS’s effort as they were well attended by many different stakeholders representing different viewpoints, expertise and experiences,” the report states.
Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger was involved in the composition of the report as the acting co-chairperson of the SCSS.
“The Governor is taking the lead in examining school safety, forming this committee to look at law enforcement’s response and how we in the law enforcement community, in partnership with schools, can help ensure our schools are safe,” he said.
There were 33 recommendations made by the committee in six general categories: training, physical security, threat assessment, school-law enforcement partnerships, possible statutory changes or additions and an "other" category.
The SCSS report recommends, among many other things, increased mental health training for school resource officers and implementing more instruction and drills for possible school shooting scenarios. It also supports Cooper’s budget request for more mental health funding.
One of the main recommendations is for an School Resource Officer to be stationed in every North Carolina school, or at least to station more SROs in elementary schools. Scarlett Steinert, director of school safety for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, stressed the need for a greater SRO presence in elementary schools.
“We have school resource officers in our middle and high schools," she said. "We do not have them in elementary schools right now."
SROs are police officers that are permanently stationed at a specific school or a set of schools. Steinert said CHCCS would need three more SROs to fill the vacant elementary schools.
“The biggest problem with that I see is that the Carrboro Police Department is small, and they just don’t have police officers that they can give us,” Steinert said.
In November 2018, Carrboro Elementary School received a call about an active shooter that put the school on lockdown. The call turned out to be a false alarm, and Steinert said the school system is trying to learn from it.
"We always want to learn how we can do things better," she said. "We have emergencies every day in our schools because we have 20 schools. After every emergency, we really try to look and see how we can do things better."
Kurt Gurley is an SRO at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill. He said his job includes meeting with administrators to discuss safety, performing lockdown drills quarterly, going over safety procedures with staff at school meetings and responding to theft and drug or weapon possession on campus.
But Gurley said his responsibilities extend beyond just keeping students physically safe at Smith Middle. Gurley said he, and other SROs, have a relationship with the children, know their families and are able to give advice and help the community outside of school.
“I just try to treat them like they’re my kids," Gurley said. "The kids know — they know when you care about them. I feel like you really make a difference in this position, and I have the opportunity to do that, so I’m blessed to do it."
Gurley said he has completed additional training, including crisis intervention, restorative practice and active shooter training. Many other SROs have also completed similar recommended courses. These trainings would be reinforced under the recommendations of the SCSS.
Now that the committee has presented its recommendations, state and county legislatures are responsible for choosing whether or not to implement them, Cloninger said.
“The way I look at it is, that’s not my job to figure out the way they want to go and do stuff, but once they decide that, then we’ll try to figure out the best way to implement it as possible,” Gurley said.
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