Two bills address school safety

Apr. 16, 2013 @ 05:06 PM

A crop of school safety bills were introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and other accounts of school violence. 

One bill, Senate Bill 27, gives public school boards and charter school boards of directors the power to designate a qualified person to possess and carry a firearm on school property. 

The designee, called a school safety marshal, must take gun safety classes and meet standards, according to the bill. The bill was introduced in February and is currently in committee. 

The marshal must be certified by the N.C. Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission. The commission will determine the level of training, which would include gun safety training, firing a firearm and crisis training in a situation that involves unarmed bystanders.

The bill allows the school board or board of directors the discretion to choose the marshal, but states that they may be “a school volunteer, a school employee or a person otherwise engaged by the school to carry out the duties of a school marshal.”

Union County Board of Education Chairman Richard Yercheck did not have an opinion on the idea of arming teachers, specifically. However, he was excited that school safety was being discussed on a state level.

“Everybody’s looking for new and innovative ways to add security to the schools and myself, the board, the school systems, we’re open to looking at anything that’s new and innovative that will help protect our kids,” Yercheck said. “It’s about keeping the kids safe.” 

Yercheck said they would approach any ideas with an open mind, while working with Sheriff Eddie Cathey and other law enforcement agencies. 

“I’m open to looking at whatever comes down to see if it’s going to work for Union County Public Schools,” Yercheck said.

Monroe Police Chief Debra Duncan is opposed to the bill. 

“I don’t support arming other people who are not law enforcement officers in our schools,” Duncan said.

She added that teaching the mechanics of shooting was not enough training and that classes cannot teach discretion, common sense and good judgment. 

Duncan, however, does support a house bill sponsored by Rep. Dean Arp, R-69, and Rep. Craig Horn, R-68. The bill, House Bill 595, would establish a volunteer school safety officer program called the “Gold Star Officer Program.” 

Duncan said that Arp called her and other law enforcement officials before sponsoring the bill. 

The bill allows people with history as a sworn law enforcement officer or at least two years as a military police officer with an honorable discharge to serve as volunteer school resource officers. The volunteers will report to the sheriff’s office or the chief of police and those departments will establish the program. 

The bill was filed April 8, passed its first reading and was sent to the committee on education.

Jarrod McCraw, safety and security director for Union County Public Schools, said the school would work with local law enforcement agencies to see what would be best for the schools if either bill became law.

“We don’t want to impede anything that our school resource officers are doing or what our local agencies are doing,” McCraw said. “We feel like with our school resource officers that are in place, they’re the best people to represent the Union County schools security needs.”

If the bill measures enhance the school resource officers’ work, they would add volunteers or marshals, McCraw said. 

“Anybody that we add as security personnel ... (we) make sure it would assist (the school resource officers) with making our schools safer,” McCraw said.