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CFR Preview: Community group takes issue with superintendent's "no-nonsense" response to campus issues

Sokoto House

Last week, Community organization Sokoto House held a panel in response to New Hanover County School District’s Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust’s push for more law enforcement in schools. WHQR’s Ben Schachtman and Camille Mojica discussed it on this week’s Cape Fear Rundown.

Over a two-week period, there were two separate incidents at Ashley High School where students brought firearms to campus. In a response online and in a press conference, Superintendent Foust called for tougher measures in a "no-nonsense" response, including holding students who don't come forward with information accountable, asking law enforcement to prosecute to the "fullest extent of the law," and ramping up the presence of police K-9s to search for drugs and guns.

Sokoto House, a community-based organization, gathered a panel of experts to push back on this approach, favoring a public-health-based approach.

B: Okay, Cami. This is in reaction to a series of events, including two incidents at Ashley High School where students brought guns onto campus– a lot of media coverage of that. And in reaction to that the superintendent of New Hanover County Schools, Dr. Charles Foust, saying that he would encourage law enforcement to prosecute students to the full extent of the law. So who was on this panel?

C: So there were advocates and mentors, basically, you know, in favor of rehabilitation, helping kids giving them a second chance. And there was actually an ACLU of North Carolina lawyer there, and there was a clinical psychologist there as well, who specializes in, trauma for children and child behavioral health.

B: So this panel was largely there to push back against Charles Foust’s suggestions, what specifically were they upset about?

C: So the biggest issue was the language of “prosecute to the full extent of the law”. Number one. A lot of them felt that that was very extreme. These are children, right? They're still kids. The other part of it was Dr. Foust did not just come after guns in backpacks, he came after drugs as well. And for the members on this panel, they said that's completely different. You know, kids having some weed in their backpack is usually a different type of situation and behavior than a kid bringing a loaded .9mm to school in their backpack.”

B: So it's not that the folks at Sokoto House were saying we're totally fine with drugs, but that maybe the hardline approach you might take to a gun on campus might not be the best approach for drugs on campus.

C: Exactly.

B: Okay. So if they're not happy with this kind of tough on crime approach, how did they suggest? How do these experts suggest that we should deal with this?

C: The psychologists basically said, we have to ask ourselves why kids act out in the first place in any sort of situation. Whether they talk back to a teacher, or they show signs of being physically aggressive. Why is the child acting out? They said that, kids bringing weapons to school, we should also be asking, why do they feel the need to bring a gun to school in the first place? And you know, why would a kid find the need to bring drugs to school in the first place? Is it because they have a substance use disorder, and they need to use those drugs? Is it because they are selling to other people to make money? It's a bigger conversation with a lot of complex questions that go into why kids are the way they are.

C: And these are the kids that they determine are high risk for violence and drug use. And basically, they're saying, well, if they're showing the signs already, let's intervene before they actually engage in the maladaptive behavior. And having law enforcement there, especially with the canine units is not conducive to having children open up to adults about what's bothering them.

B: So we actually did get a chance to sit down with Dr. Charles Foust, and you'll be able to hear that whole interview on The Newsroom – it should be online by the time you hear this. But we did ask him, you know, is this kind of a temporary measure? Or are the increased police and canine presence, the new normal? And he said for now, it's the new normal. And I'm curious if you got a sense from this panel, how students feel about that.

C: Beforehand, a lot of the kids were basically saying, we noticed a softer approach from the sheriff's office with the SROs, they were actually engaging us in conversation, they were joking around, and we were having a good time. But now all of a sudden, the law enforcement presence has ramped up, and now they have canine dogs. And the kids, they know what's going on. And now they no longer feel that that relationship that they were starting to build with the SROs is there, we're back at square one. A lot of these kids feel unsafe, they're unhappy, their feelings are hurt. And some kids are actually just scared of the canine units. So they really are like, ‘I don't want to go to school. I want to be homeschooled. I'm not going to school.’

C: At the end of the day, bottom line for the panel was there needs to be a more holistic approach of how we address behavioral issues within the schools, because it's not just children wanting to act out. There is an issue outside of school in the broader spectrum of their own personal lives. And we need to take a harder approach on how we approach mental health in students.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.