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North Carolina Enhances School Safety Measures Through Law Changes, New Grant Programs

The recent climate surrounding school safety led the N.C. General Assembly this year to approve a slate of school safety initiatives aimed at enhancing security at school facilities as well as preventive mental health measures that can head off safety risks for schools and students.

The General Assembly approved a $35 million package of safety initiatives included in the 2018 state budget, S99, the Appropriations Act of 2018 (Session Law 2018-5), with $28 million in new spending outlined as follows:

  • $5 million for School Resource Officer (SRO) grants for elementary and middle schools; this enhances the ongoing $7 million School Resource Officer Grant Program for high schools.
  • $2 million to create “Grants for Students in Crisis,” including crisis respite services for parents, training and expanded services for therapeutic foster care families and licensed child placement agencies that provide services to students who need support to manage their mental health or have cognitive or behavioral problems, developmental delays, or aggressive behavior, evidence-based therapy services aligned with targeted training for students and their parents, and any other crisis service which is likely to increase school safety.
  • $3 million to create “Grants for Training to Increase School Safety” to provide personnel training to help students develop healthy responses to trauma and stress.
  • $3 million to create “Grants for Safety Equipment,” which will be for physical security improvements at government-owned school buildings.
  • $10 million to create “Grants for School Mental Health Support Personnel,” which will provide local flexibility in the hiring of additional school mental health support personnel, including school nurses, psychologists, and counselors. At current pay rates, these funds would support approximately 132 positions for one year.
  • $5 million to generate a statewide anonymous safety tip line application to all schools serving grades six or higher in local school administrative units, charter schools, regional schools, and schools under the control of the State Board of Education or The University of North Carolina.

In response to these new funding initiatives, the Department of Public Instruction has crafted implementation guidelines for some of the grant opportunities, including setting deadlines for applications.

The 2018 School Mental Health Support Personnel grant application is now available. The grant program can provide all or a portion of the salary and benefits needed to employ additional school counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers for the 2018-2019 school year. Funds must be used to supplement, not supplant, state or non-state funds already provided. The application deadline is July 31. For questions, please email schoolsafetygrants@dpi.nc.gov.

The application deadline for School Resource Officer grants for elementary and middle schools was July 13, and recipients will be notified by August 1. SRO grant recipients must provide matching funds equal to 50 percent of the state grant. Qualifying applicants are determined per eligibility rules established by the State Superintendent.

Other policy changes enhancing school safety measures that were approved by the 2018 General Assembly include House Bill 670 (Session Law 2018-72) Protect Educational Property and House Bill 986 (Session Law 2018-32) Various Changes to Education Laws.

H670 creates a new Class H felony for communicating a threat of mass violence on school or religious property for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2018. It also sets safeguards for juvenile offenders under age 20. These offenders must: be placed on supervised probation for at least one year, complete a minimum of 30 hours of community service, obtain a mental health evaluation, and comply with any treatment recommended as a result of the mental health evaluation. For the juvenile offenders completing these requirements, the records must be expunged and a judge must set conditions of pretrial release for those offenses.

H986 requires the Department of Public Instruction, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health, to develop content standards for a mental health training program and repeals the existing State Board of Education’s School-Based Mental Health Initiative, contained in Policy SHLT-003. The law sets out the topics that must be included in the new policy, including: youth mental health, suicide prevention, substance use, sexual abuse prevention, and sex trafficking prevention; and requires the state to develop a model suicide risk referral protocol.

The North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) will be sharing information on these new school safety laws and enhancements as part of the School Safety Summit we are hosting at Wrightsville Beach July 26-27. The event, which is expected to draw a capacity crowd of North Carolina school leaders, will feature keynote messages from Dr. Joe Erardi, former Superintendent of Newtown, Connecticut Schools, and NC Attorney General Josh Stein, as well as best practice sharing from some local superintendents and helpful guidance from the key state agencies that coordinate school safety efforts statewide.

Jacqueline Wyatt | NCASA