The primary mission of North Carolina schools is to provide students an excellent education. To fully achieve this mission, schools must not only be safe, but also developmentally appropriate, fair, and just.
Unfortunately, many so-called "school safety" proposals in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut have been shortsighted measures inspired by political expediency but unsupported by data. We aim to provide a more thoughtful approach informed by decades of research and centered on the mission of public schools.
This issue brief responds to the newly established N.C. Center for Safer Schools, which has requested public input on "local concerns and challenges related to school safety" and has made available the opportunity to submit written comments.
The first section of the brief debunks common myths and provides essential facts that must provide the backdrop for the school safety debate. The second section offers proven methods of striving for safe, developmentally appropriate, fair, and just public schools. It also provides examples of reforms from other cities and states. The third section makes note of resources that we encourage Center staff to study carefully.
This brief rests on several key premises. First, "school safety" includes both physical security of students as well as their emotional and psychological well-being. Many of the proposals following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School have had an overly narrow focus on physical security at the expense of this broader picture of holistic student well-being. Second, public education in this state needs more funding in order for schools to even have a chance of achieving their core mission. North Carolina consistently ranks among the worst states in the country for funding of public education.
Schools need more resources to implement measures that can truly ensure student safety. Third, student well-being depends on a coordinated effort by all the systems that serve youth. For example, school safety will be helped by laws that keep guns off school property and by full funding of the child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice systems. Finally, this issue brief is not intended to be a comprehensive set of suggestions.
Instead, our focus is on providing the Center important context that we view as missing from the current debate.