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This sign at one of the entrances of West Carteret High School on Feb. 28 announces intentions to keep weapons and drugs off its campus. A state report released March 1 shows a significant increase in the county school system’s dropout rate, violent acts and number of students suspended in 2021-22 compared to the previous year. (Cheryl Burke photo)

BEAUFORT — A state report released March 1 shows a large spike in the number of criminal acts on county public school campuses in 2021-22, as well as an increase in students placed on suspension compared to the previous year.

There was also a jump in the number of county high school students dropping out in 2021-22.

The county’s numbers reflect a similar trend shown in many districts across the state and nation following historic disruptions to education in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) released the consolidated data report during the State Board of Education meeting in Raleigh.

County and state school leaders say the increases are related to students being out of classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, then transitioning back into classrooms in 2021-22 after two years of remote learning, altered schedules and isolation.

County Schools Chief Communications Officer Jennifer Johnson said in a statement, “It is important to remember that the 2020-21 school year was not a normal year of instruction and included A/B days and virtual choices for some students.”

Johnson continued that while Carteret County was able to keep many students in classrooms, comparing 2020-21 data to 2021-22 “isn’t optimal. We do recognize that COVID had a significant impact on graduation rates, mental health and has certainly been a factor regarding discipline once all students returned to school, post-pandemic.”

As for what county schools are doing to remediate the increases, Superintendent Richie Paylor Paylor said, “We have hired at-risk coordinators at each high school and have utilized ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund), a federal program administered by the Department of Education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic money to bring on additional supports to address academic and mental health or behavioral concerns.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said in a press release the data underscores the need for effective measures to keep students and schools safe while doing everything possible to support the well-being of students with strong mental health services.

“We know that the pandemic and its aftermath have created significant challenges for students, educators and their schools,” Truitt said. “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.”


The number of criminal or violent acts on Carteret County public school campuses more than doubled, increasing from 16 incidents in 2020-21 to 38 in 2021-22.

The report also shows there were no violent acts reported at Tiller School, an elementary public charter school in Beaufort.

The report covers 16 offenses, of which nine are considered dangerous and violent. Categories range from possession of a weapon and possession of a controlled substance to more violent categories of assault on school personnel and assault resulting in serious injury.

In county schools, there were 19 incidents of possession of a controlled substance, compared to one in 2020-21. There were also 13 incidents of possession of a weapon, which could range from a pocketknife to guns.

There were five acts of assault on school personnel and one incident of possession of an alcoholic beverage.


As for the county’s 2021-22 dropout rate, 3.18% of county high school students dropped out, up from 2.36% in 2020-21. That represents 88 county high school students dropping out in 2021-22, up from 63 in 2020-21.

The county’s 3.18% dropout rate is above the state average, which is 2.25% for 2021-22. The state’s rate increased from 1.94% in 2020-21. The county’s dropout rate is also above surrounding counties of Onslow and Craven counties.

As for what the county’s dropout rate was prior to the pandemic, the dropout rate was 1.04% in 2018-19 and 1.08% in 2019-20.


The number of county students suspended in grades one through 12 nearly quadrupled in 2021-22 compared to the previous year. There were 1,058 students placed on short-term (one to 10 days) suspension in 2021-22, compared to 219 in 2020-21.

Of those suspended, 838 were males and 220 were females. As far as the racial breakdown, 720 were white, 129 were Hispanic, 80 were black, 10 were American Indian, seven were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and two were Asian.

Five students were suspended from Tiller School during the 2021-22 academic year.

Lesser offenses committed by students are often dealt with using in-school suspensions or short-term suspensions, which are out-of-school suspensions of one to 10 days. Many times they are placed in an alternative school setting. For Carteret County, that is normally Bridges School on the campus of West Carteret High School.

A serious offense may employ a long-term suspension as a consequence. Long-term suspensions last from 11 days up to the remainder of the school year. When a student is suspended long-term, the student may not return to their regular school for the duration of the suspension.

There were no long-term suspensions or expulsions reported for 2021-22 in Carteret County.


The county and state report reflect a trend that has occurred across the nation, according to the NCDPI press release.

“National survey data from schools across the nation showed that many students struggled to readjust to school culture and expectations, resulting in more misbehavior and violations of school rules and laws,” the press release stated.

The survey from the U.S. Department of Education found that 84% of a representative sample of public schools either agreed or strongly agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the behavioral development of their students, while 87% of schools agreed or strongly agreed that the pandemic negatively impacted the socioemotional development of their students.

Consequently, disciplinary actions also increased in terms of both short- and long-term suspensions as well as expulsions. The state’s high school dropout rate also edged up from pre-pandemic levels after a decline during the two years of the pandemic, 2019-20 and 2020-21.

While several serious, low-incidence categories of crime and violence showed declines statewide — including sexual assault, sexual offense and assault resulting in serious injury — three higher offenses and crimes increased, according to the report. Possession of controlled substances was up 14% in 2021-22 compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2018-19, possession of a weapon (not including firearms or powerful explosives) jumped 60% from 2018-19 (30% from 2017-18), and while fewer in number, possession of a firearm or powerful explosive increased 30% from 2018-19.


Truitt pointed to $74.1 million in School Safety Grants that the Center for Safer Schools awarded this past fall to 200 school districts and charters. The funding is being used for safety equipment, school resource officers, training and services for students in crisis in elementary, middle and charter schools across the state.

An additional effort, she said, is being supported by a $17 million federal grant to NCDPI to help 15 school districts increase the number and diversity of mental health service providers in high-needs schools. Continuing through 2027, the grants will help the state improve the availability of school-based mental health service providers, including school counselors, school social workers and school mental health clinicians.

For the 2023-24 school year, Truitt and the State Board of Education are asking the N.C. General Assembly for $100 million to ensure that public schools in disadvantaged communities have the resources to recruit and retain qualified nurses.

The Consolidated Data Report and associated data also showed that while consistent with pre-pandemic trends, racial minorities, low-income students and males were more likely to face disciplinary actions as short- or long-term suspensions or placements in alternative schools for disciplinary reasons.

Karen Fairley, executive director of the Center for Safer Schools, said that ongoing efforts to improve school climate and culture are key to reducing instances of crime and violence as well as resulting disciplinary actions that can fall disproportionately on minority students.

“Our schools need to be safe and supportive for all students,” Fairley said, “and that requires engagement of everyone in schools: students, parents, educators and support staff. Effective engagement is something the Center for Safer Schools will address in the coming months.”

In her report to the State Board, Fairley outlined several recommendations aimed at improving school climate and culture. They include:

* Recognize cultural differences in students served.

* Provide support for parents and guardians to increase protective factors such as ensuring social connections and strengthening knowledge of parenting and child development.

* Employ a social worker at each school (elementary, middle and high) to focus on prevention, intervention and referral.

* Employ qualified professionals to offer cultural awareness training to school staff and employees.

* Offer trauma-informed care training to school staff and employees.

* Ensure that school resource officers are engaged in positive interactions with students, not just classroom behavior management and situations of arrest or other punitive measures.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

(11) comments

David Collins

By at-risk coordinator's do you mean more administrative assistants ? More bloat ? More cost ? And when the money runs out ? When greasing the squeaky wheel fails , replacement becomes necessary . Not difficult to figure out .


what was the alternative at the time?


“Cultural awareness”…”cultural differences”

Someone has drank the koolaid…misbehaving is misbehaving, don’t really matter as to what a person’s cultural background is. Poor parenting at the house isn’t a cultural thing…or is it…


The education system long ago did away with truant officers, modern schooling comes with txt and email messages if your child is not in school late to class etc. Pandemic's are stressful events, Stress causes all manner of negative behaviours, people who are on the edge already, often go over the edge when stressed. Parental involvement is key to the chance at success in any endeavor. The normal drop out rate suggests that school is not for everyone, success is still possible, just less probable. Without effective & realistic guidance from a trusted adult probability drops to near zero. Guy I know from highschool just had his oldest die of an OD, his 17 yr old granddaughter is having her second child. great guy, lousy parent.

David Collins

Interesting responses to a gloomy article . The future it foretells , to me at least , is one of continual decay when the recommendations are considered . Not my rodeo for my child is grown , gone and on her way down the road of life with all the usual twists and turns . We did the best we could and hopefully it shows . No tragedy , no jail , no single parenting and no tattoos . Not too shabby .

Time for the next generation to carry the torch . Not going to be around for much of that and that is a good thing .


Such stereotyping should be discounted. My late sister was a single mom by choice. She left her drug addict husband when her boys were just 3 and 1. Raised them by herself into the two fine young men they are today. One is even carrying on the mission she started in Jinja, Uganda - Heal Ministries - look it up. Oh and yes, she had a tattoo.


The "great solution" to everything: throw more money at problems.

"Recognize cultural differences in students served." Sounds an awful lot like letting some students that act up off the hook, depending on their skin color.

the secret life of man

No surprise here.Affordable housing will have its problems.Casa Carteret co may turn into where the trash vacations and more opportunities for police and enviromental disruptions.

David Collins

A permanent reminder of a temporary feeling ?

Doc Epoch

We closed schools for 12 months, locked people at home with their abusers, pushed ineffective masking (when you sit down you can take it off) so businesses can police the population, canceled 12-step AA mtgs, gutted the arts and after school activities, and let all the social workers, mental health counselors, and addiction specialist stay home.

Now people are in crisis….“you must give us more money!”

David Collins

Now that they accomplished that stellar record they are expecting a double digit pay raise . Earn it first , then we will see . Never lose sight of this . They are government employees . They are not broke . Never will be , unless incredibly stupid . They will get a state pension . If they contribute to Social Security they can draw that as well . State health benefits are available . Not too shabby for how many months work ?

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