WJTV News Channel 12 - School safety task force meets in New Bern, highlights mental he

School safety task force meets in New Bern, highlights mental health challenges

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NEW BERN, N.C. - State and local leaders shined the light on mental health as it relates to school safety during a meeting today in New Bern.

They say mental health is big factor in preventing more tragedies like the Sandy Hook Massacre from happening here in our state. They believe it's going to drive many of the recommendations the Governor’s Task Force on Safer Schools presents to Gov. Pat McCrory in the next few months.

On their list already: more school resource officers, panic buttons, surveillance video cameras and better locks on doors.

"So many of our schools across the state are older facilities with multiple buildings on the ground and it's very hard to secure these facilities,” explains Chip Hughes, chairman of the task force and an employee of the NC Dept. of Public Safety.

Over the past year, Hughes has visited schools across the state to assess the risks for himself. Thursday in New Bern he presented his findings to lawmakers, teachers, social workers, mental health specialists and law enforcement officers. The conversation quickly turned to mental health.

"When you look at history and the different incidences that have happened in past, mental health was a clear variable in all of those,” says Greta Metcalf, a licensed professional counselor. “The other thing that's a variable is 70 percent of them have been bullied in the past. So it's really important that we look at how we can integrate anti-bully programs."

Agrees NC Senator Norman Sanderson, “I think that anybody who would do something like this is really someone who is screaming out from the inside and saying help me! Help me!"

But that help, from putting more mental health resources on campuses to hiring more SROs, costs extra money – something missing from education budgets in recent years.  

"That’s where we have to defer to our legislators and the governor as to how much funding they want to put into it,” Hughes says.

He says there's no way to predict the total cost until the task force settles on its final recommendations. But local lawmakers tell us they're willing to cut spending elsewhere to prioritize safety.

"I don't think it's a matter of if we have the money,” Sanderson says. “We have to find the money."

The task force will meet again in June in Wake County. They hope to have a clear list of suggestions to present to Gov. McCrory by then so they can start talking funding. Already on that list is an anonymous reporting system for all schools, alternatives to out-of-school suspensions and heightened efforts to fight bullying.

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