NC lawmakers pass bill to require teams to assess school safety threats
The North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill this week to require public schools across the state to establish threat assessment teams.
House Bill 605 builds on recent work by the NC Center for Safer Schools to train teams of school professionals to identify students who may pose a safety threat.
“This is the opportunity to identify a child who may harm themselves or others before it happens,” says Karen Fairley, executive director of the NC Center for Safer Schools. “It's a preventative measure, but it's also a measure to get that child the help that they deserve.”
Fairley described how a threat assessment team might respond if a student reports he is struggling at school with his mental health:
“If little Johnny calls in and says, ‘I am being bullied at my school, it's unbearable, I'm gonna have to do something to myself or someone else,’” Fairley described, “It allows that child to sit in a room with advocates to talk about what brought them to that particular behavior that has been flagged, and then to help them to find the resources or identify the resources that are needed.”
Fairley said in the case of a child being bullied, a threat assessment team might also work with the bully. The NC Center for Safer Schools collects data on anonymous tips received by schools through the “Say Something” anonymous reporting system, and the data show bullying or cyber-bullying was the most common tip received last school year. More than 100 school districts and 156 charter schools in North Carolina use the Say Something phone application.
Representative John Torbett (R- Gaston) sponsored the bill.
“Not only does it reduce the probability of a horrific accident at school, but it greatly reduces the risk of a student causing harm to themselves or others,” Torbett said in an interview with WUNC after the bill’s passage.
Funding to support threat assessment teams depends on the state budget
The bill charges the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools with giving school districts guidance as superintendents and school boards set policies to establish the teams. Fairley says the Center has already trained more than a thousand school employees in this work, but the bill would standardize the practice across the state and require schools to report back to the Center on their activity.
According to the legislation, a threat assessment team should include at least one school psychologist or other mental health professional, and may include others with “expertise in counseling, instruction, school administration, and law enforcement.”
Funding to support the teams will depend on final state budget negotiations. Funding could come via school safety grants or funding for the NC Center for Safer Schools. A spokesman for the Center said in a statement, “we feel confident that the money to carry out HB 605 will come through the conference budget.”
Schools that do not have access to a school psychologist on staff at their district may need help finding a mental health professional to serve on the threat assessment team. Fairley says state funding could help provide support staff at the Center to help districts navigate that situation.
The bill also requires schools to establish peer-to-peer support teams for sixth grade and higher, but does not provide any funding or much detail on that requirement. The bill again charges the NC Center for Safer Schools with supporting school counselors in the delivery of these programs.
The bill is headed to Governor Roy Cooper's desk for consideration.