The Pulse

Drug, weapon possession rose sharply in state’s public schools

By: - March 1, 2023 5:30 pm
Durham Hillside High School students protest gun violence in play titled “State of Urgency” during a performance last month.

Drug and weapon possession, excluding guns and powerful explosives, continued to top the list of reportable crimes in North Carolina’s Public Schools during the 2021-22 school year.

The 5,250 reported incidents of students possessing controlled substances was a 14% increase compared to the pre-pandemic 2018-19 school year.

Meanwhile, the 3,292 reports of students found in possession of weapons was a 60% jump over the 2018-19 school year. There were 161 reports of students possessing firearms or powerful explosives, which is a 30% increase from 2018-19.

Assaults of school personal was the third highest reported crime with 1,374 such incidents.

Those grim statistics were shared by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction on Wednesday in the state’s new Consolidated Data Report to the General Assembly.

The report shows an overall increase in crime and violence during the 2021-22 school year when compared to years immediately preceding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s high schools reported 5,991 acts of crime and violence among their students during the 2021-22 school year. That’s a 23.5% increase over the 4,850 incidents reported for the 2018-19 school year. The rate of crime and violence per 1,000 students increased from 10.73 to 13.16 during that time span.

In a news release, Superintendent Catherine Truitt said the new data underscores the need for effective measure to keep students and schools safe while supporting the “well-being of students with strong mental health services.”

  “We know that the pandemic and its aftermath have created significant challenges for students, educators and their schools,” Truitt said. “We’re taking aggressive steps to respond this year, and we’re seeking more resources for next year to provide students with the help that they need.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt

Truitt noted the $74.1 million in School Safety Grants the Center for Safe Schools awarded 200 school districts and charter schools in the fall to buy safety equipment, pay for school resource officers and training and services for students in crisis.

For the 2023-24 school year, Truitt and the State Board of Education are asking the General Assembly for $100 million to ensure that public schools in disadvantaged communities have the resources to recruit and retain qualified nurses.

The Consolidated Data Report and associated data also showed that racial minorities, low-income students and males were more likely to face disciplinary actions as short- or long-term suspensions or placements in alternative schools for disciplinary reasons. The largest reported increase from the 2018-19 school year was the rate of long-term suspensions among Black students, which was 85 per 100,000 students in 2018-19 and 103 per 100,000 students in 2021-22.

Karen Fairley, executive director of the Center for Safer Schools, said that ongoing efforts to improve school climate and culture are key to reducing instances of crime and violence as well as resulting disciplinary actions that can fall disproportionately on minority students.

“Our schools need to be safe and supportive for all students,” Fairley said, “and that requires engagement of everyone in schools: students, parents, educators and support staff. Effective engagement is something the Center for Safer Schools will address in the coming months.”

Fairley outlined several recommendations aimed at improving school climate and culture in an address to the State Board of Education on Wednesday.

The recommendations include:

  • Recognize cultural differences in students served.
  • Provide support for parents and guardians to increase protective factors such as ensuring social connections and strengthening knowledge of parenting and child development.
  • Employ a social worker at each school (elementary, middle and high) to focus on prevention, intervention and referral.
  • Employ qualified professionals to offer cultural awareness training to school staff and employees.
  • Offer trauma-informed care training to school staff and employees.
  • Ensure that school resource officers are engaged in positive interactions with students, not just classroom

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.