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House Select Committee on School Safety Meets in Wilmington

Elizabeth Yelverton | NCASA Legal Affairs and Policy Manager

The House Select Committee on School Safety met last Friday in Wilmington to discuss recent updates to school safety initiatives, placing particular emphasis on student mental health. The meeting began with welcoming remarks from Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover) and Wilmington Mayor Pro-tem Margaret Haynes, who expressed gratitude for the ability of Committee to hold the meeting in Wilmington, despite the city’s continuing recovery from the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence.

Committee members then welcomed comments from New Hanover County Commissioner Skip Watkins, who discussed local funding plans and obstacles for school safety initiatives, as well as New Hanover County Chief Deputy Sheriff K.W. Sarvis, who discussed the continuing importance of placing school resource officers (SROs) in the county’s schools.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Sarvis was followed by New Hanover County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Tim Markley, who began his presentation on local school safety by thanking legislators for their quick response to Hurricane Florence recovery in New Hanover County Schools. Superintendent Markley emphasized the importance of mental health services for students, noting “all New Hanover County Schools now have access to school-based therapy.” Markley also noted the steps taken to reduce incidents of bullying in New Hanover County Schools, citing the addition of cameras in county school buses as a helpful step in reducing school violence.

Several other New Hanover County Schools representatives attended the committee meeting, including: Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rick Holliday; Krista Holland, Principal of the Year & Principal of Anderson Elementary; Cyndy Bliss, Principal - Myrtle Grove Middle School; Dr. Rob Morgan, Principal - New Hanover High School; Kristin Jackson, Director - Student Support Services; Tanya DeShields-Jordan, Supervisor of Counselors/Social Workers; and Judy Stubblefield, Behavior Support Specialist.

A student from New Hanover High School also made an appearance at the committee meeting, as a special guest of Principal Morgan. Representatives Craig Horn (R-Union) and John Torbett (R-Gaston) asked the student about her personal experiences with school safety, including an incident in which an unknown visitor approached her on her school’s campus. Committee members then discussed ideas for making school facilities more secure, such as utilizing visible badges for students, or implementing more metal detectors at school entrances. This exchange was followed by a brief presentation on mental health programs in schools by a representative from Coastal Horizons Center for Child and Adolescent Programs.

The committee meeting in Wilmington was the most recent in a series of school safety meetings across North Carolina, in which committee members discuss all aspects of school safety, from student mental health to facility safety precautions. The Committee is set to meet again on Friday in Winston-Salem.

Elizabeth Yelverton