Educators and education policy leaders are weighing many options when it comes to improving school safety in an age of mass school shootings and other threats of violence. Add to that list strengthening penalties for anyone who threatens a school and its students.
In an effort to take a unified stance on school safety proposals, the North Carolina School Boards Association recently took an internal poll of its members. Among the nearly 300 school board members across the state who responded:
- 99 percent support increased funding for mental health services;
- 94 percent support increased funding for school police officers and also state funding for capital improvements at schools such as fencing, bullet proof glass or locks;
- 90 percent support increased state funding for school counselors;
- 84 percent support making it a felony to threaten mass violence on a school property;
- 70 percent oppose allowing designated teachers to carry guns to school;
- 57 percent oppose employing the National Guard in schools.
Based on those responses, the association's board decided to take a public stance in favor of increased funding for mental health services and school counselors, and in support of House Bill 670, which would make threatening mass violence on school property a Class H felony.
The association's director of governmental relations Leanne Winner administered that poll, which the NCSBA board requested in order to set legislative priorities.
"We do have currently in statute already, making a false report on educational property. That was a Class H felony, but there didn't seem to be one for making an actual threat," Winner said.
House Bill 670 would add a felony penalty for making any threat of mass violence against a school. The measure passed the House unanimously last session, and the Senate could take action on the bill this upcoming spring session.
Representative John Faircloth (R-Guilford) sponsored the bill. He said it came out of a discussion on school safety and bomb threats last year, and that it would send a strong message.
"We want to put the word out that we're not playing around about threats -- this is serious," Faircloth said.
Representative Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) expressed concern about that proposal during the first meeting of the House Select Committee on School Safety. In an emailed statement, Harrison said she thinks the proposal could have a significant negative impact on kids with mental and behavioral health issues.
"I cannot imagine that any of the perpetrators of recent school shootings would have been deterred had they known there was an increased felony level punishment for their action," Harrison wrote. "This proposal would only serve to punish students who did not truly understand what they were doing in making a threat."
Faircloth said he hopes any investigation following an arrest would determine whether the threat was meant as a joke or with real intent.