Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell, who has at least seven deputies assigned to local schools, blamed social media. He called out a platform where posts have prompted students to assault teachers and vandalize schools.
“TikTok challenges. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” he said, adding that schools across the state have been affected.
So far in Georgia’s ongoing legislative session, Kemp has secured full funding for schools after years of state budget cuts. And he’s completed a 2018 campaign pledge to raise teacher pay by $5,000, adding $2,000 to the $3,000 raise they got in 2019. On top of that, he and lawmakers gave teachers and support staff a $2,000 bonus.
Kemp talked about that and the $69 million in school safety grants — $30,000 per school — that he secured in 2019. He also mentioned the money he helped steer to the Apex program, which pays community-based mental health providers to service schools.
The governor acknowledged that more help is needed, though he didn’t offer any specific commitments.
“We don’t just recognize the physical dangers facing our students but also the mental and emotional ones as well, and especially after two years of an unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic,” Kemp said. “We’ve seen that ourselves, with our daughters and their friends and other parents we’ve talked to across the state.”
Mary Elizabeth Davis, the Henry County superintendent, said the safety grants were helpful, but said ongoing money is needed to hire people to address the current problems. Disciplinary incidents are down in her schools, but she said there is heightened “intensity” in those that do occur.
In an interview after the meeting, she explained that principals have had difficulty bonding with students after the disruptions of COVID-19, making it harder for them to intervene in fights. It now takes more force to separate combatants, she said, especially when goaded by students who make video recordings of the violence.
She wants Kemp and lawmakers to expand the state education funding formula to include annual allotments for a mental health specialist and school police officer in every school.
“Bridges can’t be built over those gaps by well-intended educators,” she said. “We actually need systemic resources there.”