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Bertie County Schools hosted "A Regional Discussion Around School Safety"

WINDSOR—The Bertie County School Board and Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Catherine Edmonds, along with Congressman G.K. Butterfield’s Office and the Office of Governor Roy Cooper, hosted an important school safety event on Friday, Oct. 26.


In light of the ongoing violence and threats to safety that we endure in our schools during this day and time, our National, State and Local leaders for Bertie County started a conversation about responses time and resources, rural area challenges, issues and  behavior indicators to look for in troubled youth, situations that lead to violent acts in our schools, coping with the aftermath of school tragedy, the social and emotional needs of our students and so much more, with regard to keeping our schools safe in the event of a tragedy.


“This is a collaborative effort to address school safety, and to reach beyond county lines so that we can discuss and support each other,” said Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Catherine Edmonds. “School safety is a serious issue.”


Pastor Darren Whitehurst prayed for those in attendance to talk and work in unity during the invocation, and he asked that we come together with no political lines to work for the safety of the kids in our communities.


Chief of Staff of SpokeHub Allison Smith introduced the free mobile app that had been used prior to, during, and that would continue to be used to keep discussions and topics alive, well after the event was over.


Bertie County School Board Chair Bobby Occena said that most people believe that academic improvement is the number one priority when it comes to our schools. But the true priority is the safety of every child and every staff member. And he said that when the right safety practices and procedures are in place, “school crisis is preventable.”


Chair of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners Ernestine Bazemore emphasized to the crowd in opening session: “The County Commissioners support you 100%. Whatever you need to keep our children safe, just ask because they are our most precious commodity.”


Bertie County Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper explained that Bertie County is rural. He said we are large in land mass, but only have about 19,000 in population. “We are not your Wakes, Orange Counties and Durhams,” he said. “We must use our resources intelligently. All stakeholders have to be a link in the chain and a spoke in the wheel; and when tragedy strikes, everything has got to turn together.”


He added, “Planning is key; if we don’t plan, we are preparing ourselves to fail.”


On the bright side, Cooper announced that the county just received a $10K grant to conduct and active shooter training in Bertie High School.


Student Government Association presidents from the Bertie Early College and Bertie High schools, gave the perspective from students’ eyes.


BECHS SGA President Carrington Dudley said that when you go to school and feel safe, it is easier to focus on your education; and she thanked leaders for the having the event because it was proactive, and not reactive.


BHS SGA President Jacoya’ Leary echoed the sentiment, saying, “Thank you for today,” and “When educators work together to form relationships, we are all safer.” “#Region1Safe”


Congressman G.K. Butterfield said that every elected official in Congress are and should be concerned about school safety.


“The question is, what are we willing to do about it?”


He said that it is not about “messing” with the second amendment—for law abiding citizens. Rather, it is about common sense actions to protect the children in our schools.


He shared the following suggestions:


  • Background checks should be required
  • Military-style assault weapons should be banned from the streets
  • Additional resources need to be provided to law enforcement
  • Effective training needs to be provided to law enforcement and SROs
  • Funding should be provided to the CDC to research gun violence prevention


He said that some of those resources would look like:

  • Specially trained police officers and SROs
  • Specially trained teachers and mentors
  • Additional school psychologists, social workers and counselors
  • Cameras and lockdown equipment in schools


He said that the key is averting crisis before it happens. “We are all stakeholders,” said Butterfield. “And we have a lot to do. I challenge you to pay attention to what is happening in Raleigh and Washington, D.C.; and communicate with me and your elected officials about your needs, concerns, fears and dreams.”


Darryl Childers, Policy Advisor to Governor Roy Cooper, shared the emotions that parents deal with when they drop their child off for the first day of school, or wave to their child as the school bus drives away.


“It’s personal,” he said.


Childers outlined the Governor’s framework for safer schools in North Carolina.

Key components:

  1. “Extreme Risk Protection Orders” would allow for a legal process to remove a gun from the possession of an individual who poses a risk to him or herself or others
  2. Background Checks for purchasing guns
  3. Bump Stops
  4. Increasing the age to purchase a gun to 21
  5. Providing School Mental Health First Aid Training
  6. Funding for more nurses, counselors and social workers in schools
  7. Expanding Medicaid to close the gap in healthcare coverage, so that ALL people can get treatment for physical and mental health conditions
  8. Increasing the number of SROs, and providing a system of uniform training implemented across the state
  9. Expanding the number of Trauma-Informed Schools, which would help students and staff to deal with, for example, parents who are addicted, and students who experience abuse and/or neglect


Childers also that that the Office of the Governor also encourages funding, such as the $10K grant for the active shooter training in Bertie County, to not be a “one and done.”


The audience also heard from Special Agents from the SBI about the new BeTA Unit. The BeTA Unit is designed to engage communities to identify “key, concerning behaviors” to ignite a threat assessment, and ultimately to intervene before violent acts are committed.


According to the Special Agents, this process is evidence-based, structural and systematic in de-escalating pathways to violence.


The agents also pointed out that most tragedies and schools are planned well in advance; the are thought about and build over time.


Becky Ceartas with the North Carolinians Against Gun Violence also spoke. She said that her organization offers free gun locks, and advocates for parents to simply “ask” other parents of they have guns in the home, before allowing their child to have play date or sleep over.


NCAGV does not believe in arming school personnel, and they advocate for amending the concealed carry permit system.


“Right now, an 18-year-old with no background check can carry a concealed weapon,” said Ceartas.


And Jessica Hulick of the North Carolina Chapter of Moms Demand Action echoed the importance of “ASK-ing,” promoting gun locks and a free program called BeSMART, that can be implemented in schools.


Following the open session, attendees participated in one of multiple breakout sessions, on topics ranging from bullying, social and emotional needs of students, responding to students who have experienced trauma, Emergency Management’s Response to school incidents, how the State Highway Patrol can help, as well as presentations from many more experts who can help when a crisis occurs on a school campus.


***Visit the Bertie County Schools Facebook Page to see photos from the day's event, as well as a pre-event video feature from Channel 9!