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Orange County Schools Safety Task Force to meet in February, address external threats

Orange County bus is pictured on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022.

The Orange County Schools Safety Task Force will begin meeting in February for the first time since it was initially discussed last October. 

The task force, created by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, is intended to address external threats and provide a safer learning environment at all schools within Orange County.  

Commissioner Jean Hamilton said although the term “external threats” might be broad, she and other commissioners specifically proposed for the creation of the task force in response to an incident in where members of the Proud Boys protested near Orange High School. 

“The task force came from events that happened back in the fall of 2021, when there were protestors who came to the Orange County schools and exhibited behavior that was seen by some students and some staff as hostile and racist,” Hamilton said.

Commissioner Earl McKee said that, in the wake of this event, the Orange County BOCC felt that the community would be better served by a task force rather than immediately proposing new rules and regulations.

The task force will be composed of 18 members who represent a variety of interests, including school district leaders and community members in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools. Carrboro Police Chief Chris Atack and a designee from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are also expected to be members.

“The law enforcement representative — Atack from Carrboro — would probably be asked for their opinions and knowledge and practical experiences and how that might inform how these policies are going to be written,” Alicia Stemper, director of public information for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, said.

According to Hamilton, very little action has been taken following the event at Orange High School. She said the Orange County BOCC proposed an ordinance last year that addressed protesting near schools, but county residents said the measure would not meet the needs of the community and would impose on free speech.

“Part of this task force is to sort of step back and, and get a bigger picture, get more feedback and input and look at all the ways in which we can address this issue,” Hamilton said.

McKee said he hopes the task force will recommend new policies, ordinances and practices that will ensure both the physical and mental well-being of students without imposing on free speech.

When the task force begins work in February, Hamilton said the first meeting will allow members to introduce themselves to each other and air the specific concerns that they want the task force to address.  

“When we first meet, we'll get a better idea of what may be needed,” Hamilton said.

The task force will meet at least six times until June to get a view of what the problems are and what policy recommendations can be made, she said. The task force is not intended to become a permanent committee for the County; it is more "short-term," Hamilton said. 

Hamilton said there is currently no formal way for community members to have input on the task force. However, McKee said community members can contact task force members independently, and he anticipates the creation of a forum for public information related to the task force. Additionally, the policies that the task force recommends will be discussed at BOCC meetings after the task force disbands.  

“It would then go through a public process, as everything does, in which public comment would be invited and expected,” McKee said.

@DTHCityState | 

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