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A bill filed on Wednesday by state senators Ralph Hise (R-McDowell), Warren Daniel (R-Burke) and Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) would allow 3,000 teachers to complete law enforcement training in order to combat possible school security threats.

In McDowell, however, response to the bill is mixed.

“We all share the goal of keeping kids safe in the classroom. It’s important that we remain vigilant against the threat of violence and make certain our students are protected by every means available,” said Hise in a news release on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 192 was developed with the cooperation of the N.C. Sheriffs Association, and would enable teachers interested in helping secure their school facilities to complete basic law enforcement training (BLET) and earn certifications as teacher resource officers. Teacher resource officers would be sworn law enforcement officers under the jurisdiction of the local law enforcement agency and would have the same authority as other law enforcement officers while on school grounds.

“It allows teachers to go through the course work to become a law enforcement officer, and serve a dual role in their school,” Hise told The McDowell News on Thursday. “There is a lot more to being a law enforcement officer than just owning a firearm.”

Participation in the program would be voluntary, with each local school district making the decision whether teacher resource officers are a good fit for their schools. Qualified applicants would be chosen to fulfill the duties of a teacher resource officer. The legislation does state that their identity is not public record.

Hise was asked if he reached out to any school superintendents in his district of Madison, McDowell, Rutherford, Mitchell, Polk and Yancey. He said final copies were sent to each superintendent, but only one responded back and didn’t seem interested.

“I’ve talked to most of my superintendents about school safety and school security and how we can meet that role. That’s why are trying to put out more options. Some have concerns with more school resource officers (SROs) and some with teachers doing that,” said Hise.

McDowell County Schools (MCS) currently has six McDowell County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) SROs, two Marion PD SROs, and one Old Fort PD SRO. These positions are funded through both local and grant funds in partnership with the three agencies and their governing bodies. This number does not include the security personnel that MCSO and MPD place on campuses during student hours when a full time school resource officer is not at a particular site.

“While Senate Bill 192 includes provisions that require the completion of basic law enforcement training and the earning of a resource officer designation, I would much rather see more full time school resource officers so that teachers can focus on students and teaching rather than security,” said MCS Superintendent Mark Garrett. “MCS is fortunate to have partnerships with the MCSO, MPD, and OFPD that provides designated SROs and certified law enforcement officers to both keep our campuses as safe as possible while also building positive relationships with students, staff, and the greater community.”

Under the proposal, the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) would partner with the UNC Board of Governors to provide grant funding for teacher resource officer candidates to complete basic law enforcement training. After completing BLET and meeting other criteria determined by the local school district and local law enforcement agency, teacher resource officers would receive a 5 percent salary supplement.

Mark Jewel, president of the state’s North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) had quick and strong remarks condemning the bill,“NCAE is opposed to arming teachers. Educators need to be armed with the support specialists to address the social and emotional health needs of our students. We currently rank 50th in the nation in funding of support specialists."

Local chapter president of NCAE Renata Crawley, a fifth grade teacher at West Marion Elementary, said she stands with Jewel’s statement. NCAE represents 79 educators in McDowell County.

“NCAE does not support this bill, nor does Mark Johnson, NC state superintendent,” Crawley said by email to The McDowell News. “I believe resources should be spent on full-time SRO officers in every school and allowing more resources to be spent on mental health by adding more guidance counselors and school nurses in our schools. This is a sensitive subject and the safety of our children is our top priority. Allowing teachers to carry firearms could result in a devastating tragedy. We went into this profession to educate children. I believe firearms should be used by those who went into law enforcement and who have been trained to handle situations where firearms are needed. I also want to thank the McDowell County Sheriff Department. They have supported McDowell County Schools by having SRO officers present. This makes us all feel much safer.”

In last year’s budget, the General Assembly appropriated $35 million for school safety initiatives including $15 million for mental health grants, $12 million for school resource officers, $5 million for a threat reporting app, and $3 million for school safety equipment grants.

Locally, McDowell High School and West Middle School also received upgrades to their security measures beginning this year with a gated entrance and exit with a guard, cameras and check in procedures.

Sheriff Ricky Buchanan said as a parent and local law enforcement officer, he fully supports improving and enhancing safety as it relates to schools and students.

“We should do all that we can to insure our children and teachers are as safe as possible while attending school,” he said in a prepared statement to The McDowell News. “All of their focus should be on learning and enjoying school, not worrying about if someone is going to come into the school and hurt them.

Buchanan said he supports school personnel possessing firearms on school property as long as they meet the requirements as laid out by SB 192.

“As far as proposed Senate Bill 192, as written, requires the teacher/school employee to attend and successfully pass NC Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET), the candidate would then apply with their employing public education entity, and then the candidate would apply with the local city police department or county sheriff’s office having jurisdiction over their school,” he said in the news release. “I support improving and maintaining a safe learning environment for both our children and our teachers, and know Superintendent Mark Garrett to feel the same as it relates to school safety. Superintendent Garrett and all of McDowell County Schools have been and continue to be a great partner with the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office.”

The legislation would also encourage all nonpublic schools to partner with local law enforcement to create emergency plans and have an annual emergency drill based on those plans. Nonpublic schools would also be permitted to obtain training for designated employees to act as security personnel.

To read the filed bill in full, visit www.mcdowellnews.com.

Take our online poll: Do you support SB 192 allowing qualified teachers to become law enforcement officers on campus?

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