Area school systems are benefiting from nearly $75 million in funding from the Center for Safer Schools of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
Additional resources for teacher/staff pay, mental health services, and greater collaboration with local law enforcement can help increase a sense of safety for students, parents, and the community, said state leaders.
Local school systems received varying amounts of the grant. Surry County School will receive $327,171, Mount Airy City Schools received $64,420 and Elkin City Schools received $36,666.
“Our public schools are community centers, the cornerstones of our community and our democracy, where we bring all students together to live, learn and lead,” said Dr. Travis Reeves of Surry County Schools during a groundbreaking ceremony in 2021. “Our schools are dream centers that give our students and their families hope for the future.”
Reeves said most of the funds from his system have been earmarked for additional school resource officers. What is not spent on adding to SRO lists can be used to improve campus safety at system schools.
In budget funding requests earlier this year, Reeves identified the need to add a controlled-access campus visitor vestibule that directs guests through the front office as one of the best potential security measures.
He also noted that all three high schools need new phone systems, intercoms and fire alarm systems so that when campus-wide alerts are needed, they can be heard by everyone.
Some of these upgrades have already been completed, as was the case when elementary schools across the county completed major renovations in 2021.
The National Threat Assessment Center concluded last year that SROs play an important role in preventing school violence. The report states: “In almost a third of the cases, an SRO played a role in either reporting the conspiracy or responding to a report made by someone else.
According to a Duke University study, about 79% of North Carolina schools had school resource officers assigned at least on a rotational basis in 2021. However, since 19 students were killed in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas in May left the nation wondering how such an event could happen.
Questions were posed to superintendents and local law enforcement about what can be done to protect children in terms of physical safety measures beyond the use of ORS.
The Surry County Board of Commissioners asked Reeves after the Uvalde tragedy if one solution might be to add retired military or law enforcement personnel, armed or unarmed, to school gates. That wasn’t the solution, he said, and the council engaged in a conversation about the simple things that can be done, like making sure doors close and don’t stay open.
Generally, being more aware of who enters campus and who can access the building itself can prevent another mass shooting and six-hour media coverage of traumatized sophomores sprinting from school.
“School safety is a top priority for the Department of Public Instruction, as well as for students, families, educators — all of us,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt. announcing grant funding.
“It goes without saying that safety is an essential requirement for effective teaching and learning. The Center for Safer Schools has done an excellent job of ensuring that each applicant receives as much funding as possible to meet this critical need.
“The School Safety Grant strengthens schools’ efforts to keep our students safe,” said Karen W. Fairley, executive director of the Center for Safer Schools. “We are grateful to have been able to distribute the funds, and we know that they will be put to good use. »
A total of $74.1 million will be split among 200 school districts and charter schools across the state and none have been omitted. The state announced that all school districts and charter schools that applied for School Safety Grant funding for the 2022-23 school year received an award.
Yadkin County Schools received $581,216, Wilkes County $394,500 and Alleghany County will receive $96,331. Statewide, Stokes County was one of the largest grant recipients, with their allocation being $1,611,000, ranking as the sixth largest grant recipient among the two hundred grant recipients.
Stokes finds itself in the mix with Johnston, Gaston, Davidson and Duplin counties as smaller, more rural counties that have received more robust grant funding than more populous counties.
By comparison, Wake County received $659,867 and Winston-Salem Forsyth County $741,470. Of the $74.1 million in grants, only Buncombe County ($5.91 million) and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools ($2.89 million) received larger grants than Stokes County.
Since 2018, the School Safety Grant Program has distributed more than $120 million to school systems across the state. The goal was to improve safety in public schools by providing grants to school resource officers, services for students in crisis, training to increase school safety, school safety equipment and additional school mental health support staff.
Governor Roy Cooper said the state has a role to play in increasing student safety during budget negotiations. He felt that spending more on school safety was a win-win proposition for all parties: “It is what it is, an investment in our children and our public schools, the people who teach them, the staff who teach them. surrounded.”
“We want to prevent violent events from happening to begin with,” Cooper said. “When you look at what our Constitution requires, a good basic education for all children. Their mental health, their safety are part of it. »