RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A new report presented to the North Carolina State Board of Education showed in increase in crime and violence at schools across the state during the 2021-22 school year.

The report found that suspensions rose by 7% and total crime by 16% when compared with the 2018-19 school year, which was the year before the pandemic.

The Department of Public Instruction said some categories like sexual assault, other sexual offenses and assault resulting in serious injury actually decreased. However, three other offenses increased when compared with the 2018-19 school year. Among them:

  • Possession of controlled substances increased by 14% — the most common crime;
  • Possession of a weapon (not including firearms or powerful explosives) increased by 60%;
  • Possession of a firearm or powerful explosive increased by 30%.

These numbers and recent incidents have many school districts taking a closer look at security and asking parents to discuss it with their children.

“If there’s anything that anybody is aware of, make sure they let us know or let law enforcement know,” said Russ Smith, senior security director for Wake County Public Schools. “We track down every lead, everything that is reported to us.”

He also urged gun owners to lock up their weapons.

Julia Case, a mother, said she makes that a priority.

“You have a right to protect your home, but you need to be smart and responsible with them,” she said.  

DPI also reported a total of 5,991 acts of crime and violence by high school students during the 2021-22 school year. That was up from the 4,850 reported in 2018-19.

“We know that the pandemic and its aftermath have created significant challenges for students, educators and their schools,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said in a release. “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.”

According to DPI data, Wake County had eight incidents of possession of a firearm during the 2021-22 school year compared with five the year before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Anytime it can go up from one year, I look more for trends,” Smith said, adding that the district will look at this year’s data, as well as previous years, as officials continue to evaluate security and make plans and improvements.

The state is also not alone.

A survey from the U.S. Department of Education found that 84% of surveyed public schools either agreed or strongly agreed that the pandemic negatively impacted the behavioral development of their students.

Truitt said the state has been awarded a grant to fund safety equipment, school resource officers, training and services for students in crisis.

Another grant is aimed at increasing the number and diversity of mental health service providers in high-needs schools.

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