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Reality Check: NC charter schools exempt from lockdown drill requirements

Francine Delany New School for Children in Asheville, North Carolina. North Carolina law requires most public schools to hold a lockdown drill once a year. However, News 13 has uncovered that publicly funded charter schools are exempt from that requirement. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

The Parkland school shooting in February 2018 put a spotlight on school safety, including lockdown drills, where students learn how to stay safe.

North Carolina law requires most public schools to hold a lockdown drill once a year. However, News 13 has uncovered that publicly funded charter schools are exempt from that requirement.

"We've seen school violence since almost the existence of charter schools in North Carolina," Buffy Fowler, the operations coordinator for Francine Delany New School for Children in Asheville, said.

Charter schools came into existence in North Carolina in 1997.

"The Columbine incident happened within our first two years," Fowler said.

School shootings have been consistent ever since, with the worst incident being Sandy Hook and the most recent at Stoneman Douglas.

They all lead to lockdown drills, which have become a necessary part of a student's life.

"We are encouraged to do those drills each year, and we're encouraged to supply the emergency professionals in our area with schematic drawings of our school, and with information about exits, and who is in each part of the building," Fowler explained.

Encouraged, but not required, as a charter school in North Carolina.

"We do it once a year in the fall, right after the kids come back to school. We do every drill that we have listed, and then we do some drills monthly, and then we do a re-visit in the spring," Fowler said.

But, North Carolina lawmakers might force charter schools to hold these drills at least once a year, just like other public schools in the state.

"Instead of encouraged, we're required to hold full-school lockdowns [under the new proposal]," Fowler said.

The new legislative change was recommended by members of the Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee.

"It includes things about requiring schools adopting a school risk management plan. It no longer encourages us to share the schematic drawings with emergency officials. It requires us to do that," Fowler said.

North Carolina state Sen. Terry Van Duyn says state lawmakers need to do more than just pass a new requirement.

"We have to make sure that they have the resources necessary to do it," Fowler said.

Sen. Van Duyn says those resources could come from the $130 million Gov. Roy Cooper proposed in April for safer schools.

"I believe [$65 million] of that was to help make our schools more secure for physical security, and we might want to re-visit that for our charter schools," Van Duyn said.

Under state law, North Carolina charter schools get operating money -- for example, to pay teachers -- but, not capital funding, which would help upgrade buildings. More legislative changes would need to be made to secure that funding for charter schools.

Van Duyn says more changes also need to be made even beyond that.

"No one is trying to take guns away, but we need sensible gun control. It can't be all on our grammar school teachers. We need to give them some help, and make our schools safer," Van Duyn said.

State lawmakers will consider the recommendation that charter schools have to do these drills in the next session, which starts May 16.

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