James Barrett for NC Superintendent


Research clearly indicates that students don’t learn well if they don’t feel safe. Fear activates cortisol and the “fight or flight” prehistoric part of our brains, and logic and memory and even language processing all go out the window.


It doesn’t matter if that perceived fear is due to adverse childhood experiences outside of school. It doesn’t matter if it is due to bullying in school. It doesn’t matter if it is due to seeing an armed school resource officer that triggers feelings about cops shooting unarmed children of color. It doesn’t matter if it is because a safety drill feels too much like the real thing.


As a school board member, I know safety is our #1 job because students who don’t feel safe don’t learn. We had a domestic violence shooting happen at one of our elementary schools just as students were being dismissed one day. A good friend of my mother’s was a teacher held hostage by a student with a shotgun. Multiple schools have called 911 because someone suspicious walks by the school.  These are issues our staff and students face every day, even as they navigate their own fears.

As state superintendent, I can advocate for more mental health supports and other supports for our students. We need to have resources available so that students get the support they need before their well-being or that of others is put in jeopardy. My current district is using a model of co-located services, in which a mental health professional has an office within a school. This costs the district nothing but a small space in each building, and provide an easy referral and increased capacity for our students to get help, without having to take significant time away from classes. 


And as state superintendent, I can continue the strong work of ensuring that districts know how to best use school resource officers. There is good training available for both police and school personnel–we just need to get it out to every SRO and administrator.


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